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Storm Pabuk strikes Thai beaches

January 4, 2019

The storm has made landfall on Thailand's south coast, unleashing gusting winds and surging waves and causing one death. Officials, fearing it could be the worst storm in decades, evacuated thousands ahead of time.

Thailand tropical storm Pabuk
Image: Reuters/Bluechip IT Samui

One person died as Tropical Storm Pabuk, Thailand's first tropical storm in 30 years, made landfall on the country's south coast on Friday.

The storm — feared to be the worst to hit Thailand since 1989 — threatens to pound some of the country's popular island destinations such as Koh Samui, Phuket and Krabi with heavy downpours and strong winds. Over 6,100 people were evacuated from various provinces ahead of the storm, government officials said. 

On Friday the storm whipped up waves of 2 to 5 meters (6 to 16 feet), while gusting winds knocked down trees and blew the roofs off houses. The storm made landfall in the Pak Panang district in the Nakhon Si Thammarat province.

Disaster officials said that one member of a fishing boat crew had been killed when the boat capsized in the Pattani province due to high winds. One other crew member remained missing, while four others were reported safe. 

Storm losing steam

On Thursday, the Thai Meteorological Department said the storm had been moving west into the Gulf of Thailand with maximum winds of 65 kilometers (40 miles) per hour.

By landfall Friday, however, officials said that the storm was losing speed.

"It is expected to downgrade to be a tropical depression," the Thai Meteorological Department said while still urging caution. "People should beware of the severe conditions that cause forest runoffs and flash floods."

Stormy conditions are expected to last through Saturday. Officials warned people to stay inside until the storm had passed.

Thursday preparations

Before hitting Thailand, the storm's approach sent tens of thousands of tourists fleeing the popular beach resorts where they been vacationing for the holiday season.

On Thursday Thai authorities suspended ferry services and began evacuations in the provinces of Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani, expected to be the worst hit. Surat Thani is home to the popular tourist islands of Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan.

"There will be heavy rainfall and we have to be prepared for flooding or an impact on transportation," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said. "We are ready ourselves, but if the rainfall is high we will need some time to resolve problems."

Read more: The world's deadliest hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones

Flights canceled

Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, which were packed with holiday-makers during the peak Christmas and New Year season, have emptied out since Wednesday.

"I think the islands are almost empty... between 30,000 and 50,000 have left since the New Year's Eve countdown parties," said Krikkrai Songthanee, Koh Phangan district chief.

Bangkok Airways, which has a virtual monopoly on the air route to Koh Samui, canceled all flights to and from the island, potentially stranding tourists.

Some hotel operators reported a few early checkouts and said they were prepared.

"Since the morning we have prepared sand bunkers and we have barricaded glass windows. We have also prepared first aid kits, torches, water, food and fuel for the hotel's power generator," said Ampawan Taopheng, manager of Lub D Koh Samui on Chaweng Beach.

Russian tourist dies

A Russian man drowned on Koh Samui on Wednesday after his family ignored warnings not to go into the sea.

"A family of three went swimming but the strong current caught a 56-year-old man who drowned," said Boonnam Srinarat, a local police officer.

"Island officials announced the warning and put up the red 'danger' flags... but maybe the family did not think the situation was that serious."

cmb/kms (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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