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Earthquake Alert: Is Thailand’s Infrastructure Ready to Withstand the Fury of Mother Nature? Experts Weigh In!

The earthquake that echoed in Myanmar yesterday, registering 6.4 on the Richter scale, serves as a clarion call to global engineers and academicians. They propose a tightened and robust regulation system to future-proof buildings against such devastating natural calamities. In the absence of strict compliance to such legislation, our urban habitats stand exposed to the wrath of such seismic activities, they strongly advocate.

The tremors initiated in Myanmar, only to be significantly felt in numerous regions across Thailand at around 8.37 am. Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district, approximately 100 kilometres to the southeast, was the first to feel the jolts, as recorded by the Meteorological Department’s Earthquake Observation Division.

For a more detailed understanding of the earthquake, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the epicentre was pinned roughly 76km southwest of Kengtung township in Shan State – the region experiencing the quake at a fairly shallow depth of nine kilometres. In the aftermath, three aftershocks were recorded, their magnitudes fluctuating between 3.4 to 4.1.

Several districts across Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, along with some parts of Nan, and several districts in Bangkok, were among the regions within Thailand that recorded the aftershocks. The seism was perceived as far as Mae Hong Son in the North, even to the Northeast, in Udon Thani and Khon Kaen.

Amorn Pimanmas, a leading figure in the Thailand Structural Engineers Association, assures us that the quake lacked the power to dismantle the infrastructures in the North. Even in Bangkok, despite the palpable aftershocks felt in buildings over five storeys, he suggested that the 1,000km distance from the epicentre minimises meaningful impact on their structural integrity.

Pimanmas references an important ministerial regulation from 2021. This regulation delineates certain benchmarks that underline the design of earthquake-resilient buildings, covering 43 provinces across the nation, inclusive of the North and Bangkok.

He urged the populace to remain calm, stating that “earthquakes cannot be predicted and alerted about in advance.” In the face of potential future earthquakes, maintaining structural integrity and designing new constructions with earthquake-proof features is the way forward. Older buildings, meanwhile, should be reinforced to withstand such tremors.

Offering a similar opinion, Suchatvee Suwansawat, former president of the Council of Engineers, raised concerns regarding the 10,000 high-rise buildings in Bangkok amidst the possibility of more intense earthquakes to strike in the future. However, he saw a silver lining in the governmental regulation from 2021 guaranteeing earthquake-proof buildings. However, he recommended a thorough survey of buildings predating the regulation, urging their owners to reinforce their foundations.

Arun Pinta, head of Chiang Mai’s disaster prevention and mitigation office, reflected on first-hand accounts of the tremor lasting about five seconds from residents in high-rise buildings and patrons at Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital. Prasan Sangwandet, director of the Earthquake Observation Division, identified the movement of the Kengtung fault in Myanmar’s Shan State as the quake’s cause. Myanmar, a country riddled with seismic faults, is accustomed to recurrent earthquakes. Following the quake, several aftershocks have been noticed and are expected to continue for about a month or two.

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