Storm wreaks havoc on Thai is­lands

Ma­rooned tourists hun­ker down as air­ports and fer­ries close

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - World - Lil­lian Suwan­rumpha

Tourists ma­rooned on Thai is­lands hun­kered down on Fri­day as trop­i­cal storm Pabuk struck the king­dom, forc­ing air­ports and fer­ries to close and bring­ing power black­outs, heavy rains and mas­sive sea swells.

Boats were re­called to shore across the Gulf of Thai­land, while three key south­ern air­ports were shut un­til Satur­day, leav­ing tourists who re­main on is­lands now cut off from the main­land. “Ten thou­sand tourists are still on Koh Phangan,” said Krikkrai Songth­a­nee, dis­trict chief of the is­land which neigh­bours Sa­mui and is famed for its full­moon par­ties.

“But I talked to for­eign­ers last night and they are not scared, they un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion,” he said.

Me­te­o­rol­o­gists said Pabuk, the first trop­i­cal storm in decades to strike dur­ing the peak hol­i­day sea­son, had made land­fall in south­ern Thai­land on Fri­day af­ter­noon.

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

“But all tourist is­lands in the Gulf of Thai­land in­clud­ing Koh Sa­mui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao will be af­fected be­cause Pabuk is huge,” Thai me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal depart­ment head Phuwieng Prakham­mintara said.

It caused a black­out across swathes of Nakhon Si Thammarat and Su­rat Thani prov­inces as elec­tric­ity poles top­pled over in high winds and power lines were cut by fall­ing trees.

Ear­lier, as it churned through the Gulf of Thai­land, Pabuk stirred huge waves up to five me­tres high.

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

A fish­er­man in Pat­tani prov-

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

ince, near the Malaysia bor­der, died af­ter waves smashed into his boat. An­other crew mem­ber is miss­ing.

They join the only other con­firmed fa­tal­ity from Pabuk so far, a Rus­sian who drowned off Koh Sa­mui on Wed­nes­day af­ter ig­nor­ing warn­ings not to go into the sea.

By late Fri­day af­ter­noon Pabuk – which means gi­ant cat­fish in Lao – be­gan to edge across 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.

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

“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 said.

“We’re ready to bunker down.”

Hol­i­day­mak­ers on Koh Sa­mui, whose air­port was shut all Fri­day, shared videos on Twit­ter 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.

Tourism was hit hard by a boat ac­ci­dent in Phuket last July, when scores of Chi­nese tourists died as their over­crowded ves­sel cap­sized in heavy seas.

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