NAKHON SI THAMMARAT, THAILAND (AFP, REUTERS) - Floods and blackouts caused by Tropical Storm Pabuk left nearly 30,000 people in evacuation shelters across southern Thailand on Saturday (Jan 5), as relieved tourists stranded on islands further north were spared the worst and began to plot routes home.
Pabuk, a once in three-decades weather system, packed winds of up to 75kmh and brought heavy rains and storm surges as it lashed the entire south of the kingdom on Friday, downing power cables and causing widespread flooding.
A fisherman died in southern Pattani province early on Friday as high waves smashed into his boat and another crew member was reported missing.
But the storm tacked away from the key tourist islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao where large numbers of tourists hunkered down for 24 hours in heavy rains, unable to leave as airports closed and ferry services were cancelled.
"There were no casualties, there is some sunshine today and I'm confident some tourists will be able to leave today as ferries and flights resume," Kittipop Roddon, Koh Samui district chief said.
Before Pabuk hit land in Nakhon Si Thammarat on Friday, arriving from the Gulf of Thailand, airports had shut in the province and nearby Surat Thani and the holiday island of Koh Samui, with all flights cancelled.
Bangkok Airways, which has a monopoly at the Koh Samui airport, resumed normal operations early on Saturday and added extra flights to assist stranded passengers. The airports at Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani will resume operations at noon.
Most ferry services to Thailand’s southern holiday islands have resumed following suspension for the storm.
"It's all over. All 10,000 tourists are safe... I am relieved," Krikkrai Songthanee, district chief of neighbouring Koh Phangan, an island famed for its full-moon parties, told AFP, adding only minor damage had been caused by high winds.
Pabuk lost speed and was downgraded to a depression as it moved off land, weather officials said, although they maintained warnings of torrential rain and possible flash floods in nine provinces.
“The strong winds are forecast with waves up to 3 to 5 meters high in both the Gulf and in the Andaman Sea,” the Thai Meteorological Department said in a statement, urging ships to keep to shore and highlighting the risk of sudden water surges.
Pabuk had made landfall on Friday afternoon in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, south of the tourist hubs on the Gulf of Thailand, hammering the coastal province with rain.
The authorities warned of flash floods as some parts remained inundated by a combination of rainfall and storm surges.
Around 200,000 people were left without power as dozens of electricity poles were toppled by high winds or falling trees.
About 30,000 customers remained without power early on Saturday, according to an update by the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department.
A similar number of people remained in evacuation shelters, waiting for floods to recede and power to be restored, it added.
Pabuk struck in peak tourist season, a blow to the cash-cow sector that is integral to Thailand's economy.
The kingdom is expected to welcome a record 40 million visitors this year.