Pabuk savages southern coast
Thousands flee homes as mega storm strikes
Tropical Storm Pabuk made landfall along the southern coast yesterday, unleashing torrential rain that drove thousands of people from their homes, left hospitals flooded and felled electricity poles.
Local authorities said the economic losses could reach 5 billion baht.
The first province to taste the wrath of Pabuk was Nakhon Si Thammarat. A number of coastal villages in Pak Phanang district took a hammering. Thousands of residents were helped by officials as very strong winds and torrential rain lashed their homes.
The area was taking the brunt of Pabuk, some 57 years after it was struck by the last tropical storm to hit Thailand, resulting in hundreds of casualties and thousands of houses having their roofs ripped off. "Houses in those days were not built as strongly as they are today," said Dom Chuaipradit, a 77-year-old villager in tambon Lam Talum Puk.
He experienced Tropical Storm Harriet in 1962, hunkered down at a school gymnasium, which has again been turned into an evacuation centre.
Mr Dom was among nearly 1,000 people evacuated from his locality. Many were left wracked with fear during a blackout as winds banged on the gym's roof and buffeted its steel gate.
Pabuk also left its mark on the southernmost provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla.
One fisherman died and another was still missing, but four made it safely to shore, after their trawler sank in stormy seas off the coast of Pattani early yesterday, officials said.
The trawler had left Songkhla on Sunday and was returning to its home port. The skipper decided to change course to Pattani after he was advised by radio to immediately head for the nearest port as Tropical Storm Pabuk headed closer.
Large waves overwhelmed and sank the boat as it approached the coastline, casting the six crewmen into the sea. All were wearing life vests, according to reports.
Meanwhile, authorities said that to the best of their knowledge, most people living in high-risk areas in Nakhon Si Thammarat's Talum Puk had been evacuated to safer zones.
About 45 minutes before it made landfall, soldiers were still patrolling to make sure nobody had been left behind.
Pabuk left its mark as it barrelled through Pak Phanang and Muang, two of Nakhon Si Thammarat's six coastal districts.
Trees along one beach were uprooted while electricity poles on Pak Nakhon Road in Muang district lay toppled along a 1-kilometre stretch, causing officials to cut the power supply to ensure no one was electrocuted.
Floods inundated almost all of Pak Phanang municipality. At Pak Panang Hospital, the flooding reached as high as 1 metre within a few hours, local authorities said. The hospital's power generator reportedly broke down, forcing doctors to marshal soldiers into an emergency rescue situation as they ferried eight patients in serious condition to another hospital nearby.
The situation was sufficiently serious for National Park Office chief Songtham Suksawang to temporarily close four national parks in Nakhon Si Thammarat, as well as 35 more in 13 other southern provinces, including Surat Thani, believed to be Pabuk's next target today.
The Centre for Economic and Business Forecasting, the research arm of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, predicted economic losses would touch 5 billion baht.
"This will stem from the need to cease economic activity," said centre chief Thanawat Phonwichai.
Tourism operators, including those taking travellers to resort islands, airlines and hoteliers are among those likely to feel the most pain.
Many companies have either suspended or been ordered to halt their ferry services to the Chumphon archipelago, which encompasses Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand.
The measure also include all tourist boats in the resort province of Phuket in the Andaman Sea. It is expected to suffer heavy rainfall today as Pabuk looks likely to move from the gulf to the other side of the central Thai isthmus.
Many tourists were seen queuing to leave Phi Phi Island yesterday, also in the Andaman. Authorities said they had taken 1,000 people to Krabi on the mainland by organising special boat services.
Phi Phi, which is usually crowded during the peak season, reportedly turned into a ghost island with only a few souls willing to stay to see what damage Pabuk inflicts.
Some airlines have cancelled flights. Bangkok Airways axed 11 flights between Phuket and Samui after flying 6,000 passengers off the island on Thursday.
About 20,000 tourists have decided to stay and wait the storm out, according to Nongyao Chirandon, head of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Samui office.
Despite the damage done, the impact on the tourism sector will only be short-lived and Pabuk will "certainly not affect the overall economy in the South in the first quarter", Mr Thanawat said.
Surat Thani is expected to be among 12 provinces that will fall victim to Pabuk today as the tropical storm is moving in a northwesterly direction.
Officials started to evacuate people in Ban Ko Rat in Don Sak distict yesterday to one of 11 safety shelters across four districts in Surat Thani, prepared to accommodate 1,276 people.
Named after a giant catfish native to the Mekong River, Pabuk slammed Nakhon Si Thammarat's Pak Phanang district at 12.45pm, with a sustained wind speed of 75 kilometres per hour, the Meteorological Department announced yesterday.
Department chief Phuwiang Prakhammin said the storm would start to lose steam and would be downgraded to a depression as it barrels into Surat Thani.
He said there was a danger of mudslides caused by runoff from mountains in affected areas that residents should be wary of, especially in Nakhon Si Thammarat.
In Narathiwat, the storm damaged 30 houses in Muang district and 10 in Songkhla's Ranot district. Scores of schools were closed.