1 dead, thousands stranded as storm lashes Thailand

Nakhon Si Thammarat: Thailand’s first tropical storm in three decades killed one person on Friday as it arrived on the south coast, knocking down trees and blowing off roofs in its path, but was losing speed, officials said, while warning against the risk of flash floods.
Accompanying winds churned up high waves and gusts in the Gulf of Thailand as tropical Storm Pabuk made landfall in the Pak Phanang district of Nakhon Si Thammarat province, where trees crashed down on houses to cause widespread damage.
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 full-moon 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, 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, Koh Tao will be affected because Pabuk is huge,” said Phuwieng Prakhammintara, head of the Thai Meteorological Department.
It caused a power blackout across swathes of Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani provinces, authorities said, 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 province, near the Malaysia border, died after waves smashed into his boat before dawn on Friday as it returned to dock. Another crew member is missing.
They join the only other confirmed fatality from Pabuk so far — a Russian man 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.
“It’s very empty… the beaches are deserted,” Pui Suriwan, a Koh Phangan resident, said.
“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 beach side bungalows as the wind speeds picked up. The storm is bad news for Thailand’s lucrative peak holiday season.
Tourism was hit hard by a boat accident in Phuket in July last year, when scores of Chinese tourists died as their overcrowded vessel capsized in heavy seas.
Visitor numbers from China, Thailand’s biggest market, slumped after the accident. Still, around 40 million people are expected to visit Thailand this year. — AFP