Earthquake engineer Panitan Lukkunaprasit warnned that an earthquake could strike Bangkok, Thailand. His announcement came in the wake of a 4.3 magnitude earthquake that struck the Thai province of Phuket on April 16. The earthquake lead to rumors among concerned Thais that officials and scholars quickly dispelled.
While an earthquake powerful enough to sink the island province is unlikely to happen, earthquakes with a magnitude close to 5 are fairly common in Southeast Asia and the surrounding waters. They are marked on a worldwide Real-time Earthquake Map. Earthquakes can affect Thailand directly by shaking the ground beneath it or indirectly by powering a tsunami.
The "For Kids" section of the US Geological Survey website explains the geology of earthquakes in an easy to understand way: The crust of the Earth is divided by faults into several slowly moving tectonic plates. When plates push against each other at certain faults, their movement transfers energy into the rocks along the faults. The rocks store this energy like coiled springs. Eventually the energy from moving plates becomes too much to store and gets released as an earthquake.
The earthquake in Phuket was caused by a spur of the Klong Marui fault that runs through southern Thailand. Two larger earthquakes in Indonesia might have triggered the earthquake in Phuket, and several aftershocks followed it. The natural disaster and the government's subpar response to it alarmed Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra who wants the Thai government to improve its disaster warning system.
Bangkok is a capital city with millions of residents. According to Thailand's World, builders in the 16th century straightened the Chao Phraya River with a canal and developed Bangkok as a port of entry for the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Today, Bangkok has an extensive canal system that transports people, goods and sewage. Because Bangkok has been a center of political power for generations, it contains historic palaces, shrines and fortresses.
Over the centuries, Bangkok was influenced by armies and immigrants, according to Thailand's World. Examples include King Narai hiring French workers to build Fort Wichaiyen and Fort Wichaiprasit along the banks of the Chao Phraya in the 1600s and, in the following century, General Taksin moving the capital to the west bank, after Burmese forces attacked. Bangkok's Chinatown has homes, shops and temples that reflect the residents' Chinese heritage. Bangkok remains an international metropolis where cultures mix to create its famous nightlife.
A major earthquake could cause mass devastation if it centered on Bangkok. Fortunately, a powerful Bangkok earthquake is unlikely. The faults underneath Thailand are diverging faults that tend to cause small earthquakes, making Bangkok relatively safe. However, Thailand's southern provinces that line the Andaman Sea are at risk from the faults under the ocean west of Thailand. Subduction zones along these faults can cause much larger earthquakes that might send tsunamis crashing onto their shores. In order to counteract the risks of earthquakes and tsunamis facing Thailand, experts recommend improved building standards, education, and adequate preparation in case of an emergency. Humanity cannot stop nature's violence, but we can minimize casualties by preparing for it.