Thailand braces for powerful Tropical Storm Pabuk, set to hit beach resorts
Thai authorities have suspended ferry services and begun evacuations ahead of a powerful tropical storm that is expected to pound the South-East Asian nation’s famed southern beach resorts during peak tourism season.
- Fears storm could be worst in 30 years
- Storm expected to hit west of country today
- Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat provinces to be hardest hit
Rain was already falling around the Gulf of Thailand and officials warned torrential downpours, strong winds and rough seas were expected in 16 provinces when Tropical Storm Pabuk makes its expected landfall later today.
There are fears the storm will be the worst to hit Thailand since 1989, when Typhoon Gay left more than 400 dead.
ABC journalist Brad Ryan, who is holidaying on Koh Lanta island to the west of the mainland, said preparations were being made.
“Our Airbnb host suggested we stock up on supplies and batteries because there’s a good chance we will lose power, so we’ve bought a lot of food and water,” he said.
“But the information we’re seeing suggests it’ll be a lot worse for the islands off the east coast rather than the west coast so we’re not too worried.”
Thailand’s Meteorological Department said the storm would lash southern Thailand’s east coast until 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 seaside 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,” local official Kriangsak Raksrithong said.
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 and having friends help tug them on to beaches.
The Meteorological Department said the storm was moving west into the Gulf of Thailand with maximum winds of 65 kilometres per hour, and that waves of up to 5 metres high were possible in the Gulf of Thailand, and to 3 metres high 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 until Saturday.
“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.”
He later held a video conference with the governors of the 16 provinces to discuss preparations for the emergency, including digging drainage canals to run off floodwaters, mobilising rescue vehicles, ordering all boats to be docked, and readying medical facilities.
Southern Thailand’s tourist industry is a huge money-maker, and authorities have become particularly sensitive to visitors’ safety since last July, when 47 Chinese tourists drowned when the boat they were on sank in rough seas near the popular resort of Phuket in the Andaman Sea.
In Koh Samui, beach guards hoisted red flags to warn people to stay out of the sea. Police patrolled beaches, although many were almost deserted.
Melburnian Maria Baleva, 48, has been in Koh Tao on holiday since Tuesday but said she felt safe despite the coming storm.
She wrote to the ABC: “[I’m] in a villa on a hill. [I’m] not really preparing as the villa is very sturdy made of concrete and no risk at all from big waves.
“Our original flight back to Melbourne from Koh Samui was for tomorrow … but with no ferries we did not think we’ll make it, so we changed it to Sunday.
“We are quite isolated on the southern side and not in the main area, so I really have no idea about the general mood or the activities on the island.”
Ms Baleva described the current scene: “The weather at the moment is still very calm — raining but not too hard.
“We have heard nothing from the Government, we were just told by the lady here looking after us that ferries will stop for two days,” she said.
“But even that information was from the ferry company FB.
“Yesterday when we went to some shops, everything was calm, tourists were buying food but not in panic, there was bread and water.”
Jamie Matthew Durnberger-Smith, 30, is stranded in Kuala Lumpur after his flight to Koh Samui was cancelled.
The mine controller from Brisbane — whose flight has been rebooked for early next week — said: “We flew from Brisbane to Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
“We were meant to jump on a plane then to Koh Samui [but] the plane’s been cancelled due to the typhoon, so there’s 50 of us stranded at the moment.
Ominous grey skies over Koh Tao’s Shark Bay signal the coming storm. (Supplied: Maria Baleva)
“We went down to the service desk and the guys just said, ‘It’s a weather event, there’s nothing we can do, so maybe just come back in three days’ time’.
“I’m sure all of us are going to have to just make the most of being in Kuala Lumpur for a few days.”
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.
In an incident possibly related to the storm, a Russian tourist in Koh Samui died on Wednesday as he tried to rescue his daughter, who was struggling in strong surf.
Thai PBS television reported the daughter survived but her father lost consciousness after being thrown against some rocks, and he could not be revived by rescuers.