That comment could not be more appropriate when it comes to the collapse of the road over Patong Hill on Wednesday (Oct 19). Amazingly, no people were injured in the landslide.
Officials have repeatedly blamed the rain for the slew of landslides across Phuket. The Thai Meteorological Department (TMD) has not yet confirmed the rainfall this month to be record breaking, but it must be close.
By Oct 16 Phuket had already experienced 238mm of rainfall in October. The 30-year average for October stood at 330mm, the TMD reported at the time. Then came the rains last Sunday, with continuing very heavy downpours through Tuesday. As of yesterday (Oct 22), The TMD reported that Phuket had experienced 530mm of rainfall so far this month.
Yet that is not the issue, and officials know it. Good quality infrastructure construction can be done. Even maintenance can be done. All throughout the floods over the past week there has not been one report of an underpass flooding. That can be credited to construction and maintenance. Not by chance but by maintenance schedule alone the water pumps in the Darasamut Underpass underwent replacement just last month. That followed an inspection in August.
Yet for the Patong Hill road collapse the photos released by officials themselves showed very little compacting under the road surface, and appalling drainage on the downhill side of the road – as if they just forgot where the water would go and what was actually holding up the road. The fact that the road had not collapsed earlier, even during the heyday of Phuket tourism through 2018-2019, is a miracle. That is the level of engineering that has been allowed.
And now, after the key road that feed tourists to Patong has collapsed, Phuket Highways Office Chief Yuttana Pitak says that all repairs at landslide sites “must adhere to engineering principles”. It is a little late for that.
Now all people wanting to get to – or from – Patong by road must travel over Kata Hill, a road still waiting to undergo repairs after the earth under the supports for the outer lane were washed away two years ago, or they must travel through Kamala, which also suffered landslides spilling across its main road this past week.
All the blathering about restoring tourists’ confidence in travelling to Phuket will now be put to the test. This time “Trust us” will not be good enough.
Not only do officials have to convince tourists themselves, they can bank on short memories for the problem to disappear over time for that, but they will also have to convince tour agents, whose name will be held synonymous in source markets around the globe with any dangerous incidents that may occur in the future.
Agents selling flights and tours to Phuket now have to pitch their tours on the probability that their tourist customers will not plunge down a steep hillside while they are on holiday here, and the tour agents will have to gamble on not having their brand name associated with any fatalities resulting from dangerous road building. Tourists can go to any developing country to get that.
While quality road building can be performed by a select few companies in the country, this time international experts will need to be brought in to professionally sign off on any repairs done – or carry out the repairs themselves – in order to restore any confidence in people even thinking of using the Patong Hill road once it reopens.