Army deployed to evacuate coastal areas as tourist hubs of Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan expected to be hardest hit
Thai authorities have suspended ferry services and begun evacuations ahead of Tropical Storm Pabuk amid fears it could be the worst to hit the nation since 1989.
The storm is expected to pound Thailand’s famed southern beach resorts during peak tourist season.
Rain is already falling around the Gulf ofThailandand officials warned that torrential downpours, strong winds and rough seas were expected in 16 provinces when Pabuk makes its expected landfall late on Friday.
In 1989, Typhoon Gay killed more than 900 people in the Gulf of Thailand. A tropical storm in 1962 killed more than 900 people in the south.
On Wednesday, a Russian tourist died in Koh Samui as he tried to rescue his daughter, who was struggling in strong surf. Thai PBS television reported that the daughter survived but her father was thrown against rocks, lost consciousness and could not be revived.
Thailand’s Meteorological Department said the storm will hit southern Thailand’s east coast from Thursday to Saturday, with the two provinces of Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat expected to be hardest hit. Surat Thani is home to the popular tourist islands of Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan.
Army trucks were driving around remote coastal areas in Nakhon Si Thammarat on Thursday evening, searching for stragglers who had not yet been evacuated.
“We have prepared three shelters and currently have about 1,000 people in them,” said local official Kriangsak Raksrithong.
Fishing is another major industry in the south, and small-boat owners were heeding the warning. Many dragged their vessels ashore, attaching ropes to the boats.
The Meteorological Department said the storm was moving west into the Gulf of Thailand with maximum winds of 65km/h (40mph), and that waves of three to five metres (10 to 16ft) were possible in the Gulf of Thailand, and up to three metres (6 to 10ft) in the Andaman Sea on the west coast. It warned of strong winds and storm surges on the gulf side and said all ships should stay berthed on land through Saturday.
“There will be heavy rainfall and we have to 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.”
He later held a video conference with the governors of the 16 provinces to discuss preparations for the emergency, including digging drainage canals to divert floodwaters, mobilising rescue vehicles, ordering all boats to be docked, and readying medical facilities.
Southern Thailand’s tourist industry is a huge moneymaker, and authorities have become particularly sensitive to visitors’ safety since July last year, when 47 Chinese tourists drowned whenthe boat they were on sank in rough seasnear the popular resort of Phuket.
On Samui island, beach guards hoisted red flags to warn people to stay out of the sea. Police patrolled beaches, although many were almost deserted.
Anne Britt Sodefjed, a tourist from Norway, said she wasn’t worried. “We have bought lights, yes, and some more water. And we know the hotel will look after us,” she said.
Two natural gas production platforms in the Gulf of Thailand directly in the path of the storm suspended operations and had their personnel evacuated to shore, said Thai state oil company PTT. It said drilling rigs and vessels had been moved to unaffected areas, and gas production at a third platform remained operational to help meet energy needs.
The storm passed about 300km (180 miles) south-southwest of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh city at midday Thursday, and was expected to bring heavy rain and strong winds to the Mekong Delta, the country’s major area for rice and aquaculture production.