Tourists hunker down as Storm Pabuk hurtles towards Thailand

Ten thousand tourists marooned on Thai islands brace themselves as the resorts prepare to be smashed by the first tropical storm to hit them during holiday season in decades

  • Tropical storm to bring heavy rains, wind and 22-foot waves to south Thailand
  • Most tourists left Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and Koh Samui, but thousands remain
  • Ferries and flights suspended since yesterday as storm make landfall today 
  • Video footage show desperate tourists queuing at closed Koh Samui airport
  • Supermarkets out of food, witnesses say, and electricity may be cut out 

More than ten thousand tourists are bracing themselves for a tropical storm, after failing to make it off some of Thailand’s most popular holiday islands in time.

Some 50,000 tourists are estimated to have left Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and Koh Samui already, however many are now stranded on the islands as Tropical Storm Pabuk has forced airports to close and all ferry traffic to be suspended. 

Hundreds have crammed into the small airport on Koh Samui, waiting for it to reopen, while others have taken the incoming storm in their stride and stocked up on food and water to ride it out.

Locals clear the shoreline in preparation for the approaching Tropical Storm Pabuk, in Pak Phanang, in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, southern Thailand

Nowhere to go: Foreign tourists with their belongings wait  at the closed airport at Koh Samui where flights have been cancelled ahead of Pabuk

Thousands  of people have been evacuated from their homes after 11 southern coast provinces have been put on a weather warning as tropical storm Pabuk is expected to bring heavy downpours, strong winds and high waves

Stormy: Cars and fallen electricity poles are seen along a road in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat

Meteorologists said Pabuk, the first tropical storm in decades to strike during the peak holiday season, had intensifed Friday morning and was due to make landfall imminently. 

Boats were recalled to shore across the Gulf of Thailand, while two key airports – Koh Samui and Nakhon Si Thammarat – were shut until Saturday, leaving tourists who remain on islands now cut off from the mainland.

  • Supermarkets run out of food as terrified tourists who…

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‘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.

‘But I talked to foreigners last night and they are not scared, they understand the situation,’ he told AFP.

The eye of the storm is forecast to pass over Nakhon Si Thammarat, sparing the tourist islands to the north from a direct hit.

Queuing up: Tourists at Koh Samui airport wait in line at the ticket office for advice

Chinese tourists disembark at Surat Thani airport after tour operators were forced to suspend boats to tourist islands due to tropical storm Pabuk

Floodwaters rise over the coastal road as Tropical Storm Pabuk approaches in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, southern Thailand

Children who were evacuated from their homes are seen at a evacuation center as tropical storm Pabuk approaches the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat

‘But all tourist islands in the Gulf of Thailand including Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao will be affected because Pabuk is huge,’ said Phuwieng Prakhammintara, head of the Thai Meteorological Department.

As it churns through the sea, Pabuk has gathered pace with 75-kilometre-an-hour (45 mile) winds stirring huge waves of up to five metres high (16 feet).

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

With rains lashing the entire south, the Meteorological Department warned coastal communities to expect ‘inshore surges’ as winds whip up the sea.

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.

A woman holds up her dog as she runs toward her house as tropical storm Pabuk approaches the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat

Local fishermen move a boat ashore in preparation for the approaching Tropical Storm Pabuk

Downed: Strong winds have brought down a tree in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat

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.

Pabuk, which means giant catfish in Lao, is forecast to pass over 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 have already fled the southern zone.

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

Incoming: Tropical Storm Pabuk is set to make landfall on Friday 

On neighbouring Koh Tao, one of Southeast Asia’s most popular dive spots, tourists and residents were bracing for a torrid 24 hours ahead.

‘The weather is turning worse as the winds pick up, I´ve finished buying supplies… there’s no gas anywhere on the island, 7/11 is already running out of things,’ a Spanish dive instructor told AFP.

‘We’re ready to bunker down.’

Holidaymakers on Koh Samui took to Twitter to shares videos 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 boat 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.

In 1989 Typhoon Gay, the last major weather system to strike the region at this time of year, claimed hundreds of lives.

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