Residents in southern Thailand have been urged to head inland as the first tropical storm outside of the monsoon season in nearly 30 years makes landfall. Many tourists fled the popular destinations of Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and Koh Samui, with the storm set to make landfall on Friday. Krikkrai Songthanee, Koh Phangnan district chief, said: “I think the islands are almost empty. Between 30,000 to 50,000 have left since the New Year’s Eve countdown parties.”
Thailand has cancelled flights to the popular holiday island of Koh Samui over threats posed by the powerful storm.
Live footage from the Koh Samui coastline shows fierce waves batter the shores at Vikasa, Chaweng Noi, as the storm sets in over the island.
Coastal residents have been warned to stay indoors over fears the storm will be the worst to strike Thailand since Typhoon Gay killed more than 400 people in 1989.
No official evacuation has been ordered but swimming has been banned and boat services will soon be suspended.
Tropical Storm Pabuk is set to hit at around 7pm local time on Friday in Nakhon Si Thammarat, unleashing devastating winds and heavy rainfall across southern Thailand.
Phuwieng Prakammaintara, director general at the Thai Meteorological Department, told reporters: “We expect waves as high as five or seven metres near the eye of the storm.
“Normally in the Gulf of Thailand there are only two-metre high waves.
“It’s difficult to predict the severity of the storm so people should comply with authorities’ recommendations.”
Authorities on the islands are said to be preparing shelters for those tourists and residents who are staying.
Thailand’s Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said the military was on alert to assist people affected.
Chaiyan Thurasakul, mayor of the Koh Tao Subdistrict Municipality, told BBC Thai the island had prepared for possible floods, landslides and strong waves.
He said: “If the storm is severe for two to three days, we may have to ask for help from the mainland for shipment of necessary items.”
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