Five dead, floods, blackouts after Thai storm, but tourist islands spared

  • Transport links including ferry services and airports slowly began to reopen on Saturday, but tens of thousands still without power or stuck in shelters
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 January, 2019, 12:38pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 January, 2019, 9:53pm

At least five people were killed after Tropical Storm Pabuk hit the southern Thai province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, local media said on Saturday.

Floods and blackouts caused by Pabuk have left nearly 30,000 people in evacuation shelters.

Relieved tourists stranded on islands further north were spared the worst and began to plot routes home.

A once in three-decades weather system, Pabuk packed winds of up to 75km/h (45 mph) and brought heavy rains and storm surges as it lashed the entire south of the kingdom on Friday, cutting power and causing widespread flooding.

A fisherman died in southern Pattani province early on Friday when high waves smashed into his boat. Another crew member was reported missing.

But the storm stayed away from popular tourist spots Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, where large numbers of tourists hunkered down for 24 hours in heavy rain, unable to leave as airports closed and ferry services were cancelled.

“There were no casualties, there is some sunshine today and I’m confident some tourists will be able to leave today as ferries and flights resume,” said Kittipop Roddon, Koh Samui district chief.

But “red flag” warnings banning swimming off what are normally sun-baked beaches at this time of year were still in place.

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“It’s all over. All 10,000 tourists are safe … I am relieved,” said Krikkrai Songthanee, district chief of neighbouring Koh Phangan, an island famed for its full-moon parties. He said only minor damage had been caused by high winds.

But holidaymakers keen to leave the islands faced long delays, as transport links slowly reopened on Saturday.

The storm was downgraded early in the day to a depression with wind speeds slackening as it moved into the Andaman Sea, meteorologists said.

Pabuk made landfall on Friday afternoon in Nakhon Si Thammarat, south of the tourist hubs on the Gulf of Thailand, hammering the province with rain.

Authorities warned of flash floods as some parts were inundated by a combination of rainfall and storm surges.

Around 200,000 people were left without power as dozens of electricity poles were toppled by high winds or falling trees.

Some 30,000 customers were still without power on Saturday morning, according to an update by the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department.

A similar number of people were stuck in evacuation shelters, waiting for floods to recede and power to be restored, it said.

Pabuk struck during the peak tourist season, a blow to a sector that is integral to Thailand’s economy.

The kingdom is expected to welcome a record 40 million visitors this year.

Additional reporting by Kyodo