Tsunami alert empties beaches

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Tourists on one of Phuket’s most popular beaches were evacuated on Tuesday morning after a new tsunami-warning system responded to an earth tremor off the Indonesian coast.

Foreign sun seekers and local people were told to leave Patong beach by a multi-lingual warning alarm, according to the Thai television network, The Nation.

In the aftermath of last December’s tsunami, the Thai authorities have set up new mechanisms to alert people in the case of earthquakes that could trigger killer waves.

The alarm was soon scaled down from red to yellow after it was established that the Indonesian earthquake had not prompted a tidal wave. Indonesian geophysical authorities say the quake on North Sumatra on Tuesday registered around 6.0 on the Richter scale. The quake triggered panic among residents in the North Sumatra capital of Medan.

US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice is due to visit the region later this week, and the new alarm, and will view the new system introduced after December 26 earthquake which triggered killer waves in the Indian Ocean and claimed more than 250,000 lives.

Rice is due to arrive on the southern Thai resort island of Phuket on Sunday, and to meet Prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and foreign minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon the following day.

The Thai foreign ministry says the scope of the visit is to observe reconstruction efforts after the tsunami, so most of her meetings will be in Phuket.

In the December 26 earthquake nearly half of the 5,400 victims in Thailand were tourists. Some 2,800 people are still listed as missing.

In the aftermath of the disaster, the Thai government launched an early warning network with the first segment operational in Patong, a popular beach some 600 kilometres south of Bangkok.

Source: AKI