Tropical Storm Pabuk Makes First on Record Southern Thailand January Landfall; Two Killed, Thousands Evacuated

Pam Wright and Jonathan Erdman
Published: January 5, 2019

Tropical Storm Pabuk made a rare landfall in southern Thailand Friday, bringing heavy rain, storm surge flooding and winds to the Malay Peninsula's tourist resorts and coastal villages.

The storm made landfall just after midday Friday at Pak Phanang along the Gulf of Thailand coast of the Malay Peninsula about 370 miles south of country's capital, Bangkok, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph, according to the Thai Meteorological Department (TMD).

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A row of toppled powerlines from Tropical Storm Pabuk block a main highway, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, in Pak Phanang, in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, southern Thailand.
(AP Photo/Sumeth Panpetch)

One person was reported dead and another missing after a fishing boat with a crew of six capsized in rough seas. There were no reports of major damage by nightfall.

A Russian tourist in Koh Samui drowned Wednesday as he tried to rescue his daughter, who was struggling in strong surf. Thai PBS television reported that the daughter survived but her father lost consciousness after being tossed against some rocks and couldn't be revived by rescuers.

Torrential downpours leading to flash flooding, battering waves from 10 to 16 feet along the Gulf of Thailand coast and damaging winds were all concerns with Pabuk in over a dozen Thai provinces, the TMD said in their Friday afternoon warning.

Since Thursday, 50 to 100 millimeters - about 2 to 4 inches - of rain had fallen along the Gulf of Thailand coast. Rainfall totals of 10 inches or more were suggested by several forecast models with Pabuk through Saturday.

Earlier Friday, authorities in Nakhon Si Thammarat province drove trucks through flooded streets with downed power lines, urging people to leave.

More than 100 foreign tourists were rescued by boat from Koh Racha, an island off Phuket, due to the potential of dangerous conditions on the island, Khaosod English reported.

At least 30,000 residents in Nakhon Si Thammarat province and another 1,000 residents in Pattani province were evacuated to shelters due to the threat of storm surge flooding, Khaosod English reported.

Thai authorities suspended ferry services in the Gulf of Thailand. Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani Airports were closed, but expected to reopen Saturday.

On Koh Samui, beach guards hoisted red flags to warn people to stay out of the sea. Police patrolled beaches, although many were almost deserted.

There are fears that the storm will be the worst to hit Thailand since 1989, when Typhoon Gay killed more than 400. A tropical storm in 1962 killed more than 900 people in the south.

According to the Thai Meteorological Department, no previous tropical cyclone had struck Thailand in January, February or March in records dating to 1951.

The country typically experiences about 3 to 4 tropical cyclones each year, usually as weaker tropical depressions after first hitting Vietnam, with September and October being their peak months. Tropical cyclones have hit southern Thailand as late as December, according to the TMD.

"There will be heavy rainfall and we have to 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."

Waves due to tropical storm Pabuk crash into a pier in the southern Thai province of Surat Thani on January 4, 2019.
(Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images)

He later held a video conference with the governors of the 16 provinces to discuss preparations for the emergency, including digging canals to run off floodwaters, mobilizing rescue vehicles, ordering all boats to be docked, and readying medical facilities.

The storm is expected to pound the country's popular beaches during one of the its peak tourist seasons. Southern Thailand's tourist industry is a huge moneymaker, 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.

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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.

Two natural gas production platforms in the Gulf of Thailand directly in the path of the storm suspended operations and had their personnel evacuated to shore, said the exploration and production arm of the That state oil company PTT. It said drilling rigs and vessels had been moved to unaffected areas, and gas production at a third platform remained operating to help meet energy needs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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