Tourists hunker down as storm Pabuk dumps heavy rains on Thailand

Light from cars is seen at a road without electricity as
tropical storm Pabuk approaches the southern province of
Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand on Friday. Krittapas
Chaipimon, Reuters

Tourists marooned on Thai islands hunkered down Friday as
tropical storm Pabuk struck the kingdom, forcing airports and
ferries to close and bringing power blackouts, heavy rains and
massive sea swells.

Boats were recalled to shore across the Gulf of Thailand, while
three key southern airports were shut until Saturday, leaving
tourists who remain on islands now cut off from the mainland.

“Ten thousand tourists are still on Koh Phangan,” said Krikkrai
Songthanee, district chief of the island which neighbours Samui
and is famed for its full-moon parties.

Meteorologists said Pabuk, the first tropical storm in decades
to strike during the peak holiday season, made landfall in
southern Thailand on Friday afternoon.

The eye of the storm passed over Nakhon Si Thammarat, sparing
the tourist islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao to
the north from a direct hit.

But it caused damage along coastal areas and a power blackout
in large swathes of Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani
provinces, authorities said, as electricity poles toppled over
in high winds and power lines were cut by falling trees.

Hundreds of people packed into evacuation centres after storm
surges flooded low-lying areas while high winds of up to 75
kilometres an hour whipped through deserted streets.

“I’m worried because my house was flooded,” Preecha Kongthep
told AFP late Friday from a shelter in the town of Nakhon Si
Thammarat.

“I don’t know what it’s like now,” he added, as the rains
outside slackened.

Earlier as Pabuk churned through the Gulf of Thailand, it
stirred huge waves up to 16 feet high.

Social media videos showed oil rigs being battered by waves,
and tankers navigating terrifying walls of water.


– Empty shops, beaches –


A fisherman in Pattani province, near the Malaysia border, died
after waves smashed into his boat before dawn on Friday as it
returned to dock. Another crew member is missing.

They join the only other confirmed fatality from Pabuk so far
— a Russian man who drowned off Koh Samui on Wednesday after
ignoring warnings not to go into the sea.

By late Friday Pabuk — which means giant catfish in Lao —
lost steam as it edged across the narrow neck of land between
the Gulf of Thailand and into the Andaman Sea, home to the
tourist resorts of Phuket and the Similan National Park, a
diving paradise.

Tens of thousands of tourists had already fled the southern
zone.

“It’s very empty… the beaches are deserted,” Pui Suriwan, a
Koh Phangan resident, told AFP.

On neighbouring Koh Tao, one of Southeast Asia’s most popular
dive spots, tourists and residents saw out a bracing 24 hours
with limited supplies.

“There’s no gas anywhere on the island, 7/11 is already running
out of things,” a Spanish dive instructor told AFP.

Holidaymakers on Koh Samui, whose airport was set to reopen on
Saturday, shared videos on Twitter of waves licking the steps
to beachside bungalows as the wind speeds picked up.

The storm is bad news for Thailand’s lucrative peak holiday
season.

The economy is heavily reliant on tourism, with latest figures
for 2017 showing the kingdom made nearly $60 billion from the
sector.

Tourism was hit hard by a boat accident in Phuket in July last
year, when scores of Chinese tourists died as their overcrowded
vessel capsized in heavy seas.

Visitor numbers from China, Thailand’s biggest market, slumped
after the accident. Still, around 40 million people are
expected to visit Thailand this year.

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