SURAT THANI, THAILAND - The first tropical storm in three decades to hit Thailand battered its southern coast on Friday (Jan 4), shutting down airports and leaving thousands of tourists stranded.
At least one fisherman was killed.
Tropical Storm Pabuk, with winds reaching 75kmh, made landfall in Nakhon Si Thammarat province on Friday afternoon, causing widespread damage.
Thailand’s Meteorological Department warned in an evening update: “People should beware of the severe conditions that cause forest run-offs and flash floods, especially over tonight.”
Three airports – in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani provinces and also Koh Samui – were closed, as some 10,000 people were evacuated in Nakhon Si Thammarat alone to ride out the storm that is expected to last until Saturday.
All ships have been ordered ashore as waves up to 5m high were expected in the Gulf of Thailand.
The strong winds crumbled rooftops, uprooted trees and felled electrical poles, while the rain inundated roads.
Off nearby Pattani province, one fisherman died and another was reported missing after their trawler sank in choppy waters on Friday, reported the Bangkok Post.
The crew were trying to make it to shore after getting a storm warning. Four survived.
Nakhon Si Thammarat Vice-Governor Thawornwat Kongkaew told The Straits Times: “Many people were reluctant to evacuate until they encountered the strong waves.”
The province had prepared 190 shelters to handle 80,000 evacuees. “One centre in Pak Phanang district that we planned to house 2,000 people already has 5,000,” he said.
“The electricity has been cut off in the areas that have been hit, so that will make it difficult for us to give aid. But help is coming, and I am sure we will be fine.”
Meanwhile, the Thai navy loaded up its only aircraft carrier with drinking water and other relief
supplies in preparation for rescue operations.
The storm hit during the kingdom’s peak tourist season.
With boats banned from leaving the shore, Thai government vessels were dispatched to pick up tourists stranded on the Andaman Sea islands off Phuket, such as Koh Racha and Koh Phi Phi, local media said.
Koh Phi Phi was made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, The Beach.
Over in the Gulf of Thailand – where the popular holiday destination of Koh Samui is located – tourists who chose to stay put amid earlier evacuations spent time on land.
Ms Rumleuk Assavachin, the owner of a diving resort on Koh Tao, a popular island off Surat Thani province, told The Straits Times: “We stopped diving trips this afternoon. But there is enough food and electricity on the island, so it is okay.”
The Meteorological Department expects the storm to weaken to a tropical depression.
When Pabuk, earlier named Usman, rolled across the Philippines last week, it dumped almost a month’s worth of rain in two days in some areas, causing landslides in the central part of the country.
At least 85 people there are confirmed dead.
Earlier this week, Vietnamese airline Vasco cancelled flights between Ho Chi Minh City and the islands of Con Dao as a precaution.