Thousands evacuated as Storm Pabuk strikes Thailand beaches

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04.01.2019

Storm Pabuk slams Thailand

The storm has made landfall on Thailand's south coast, unleashing gusting winds and surging waves and causing one death. Officials, fearing it could be the worst storm in decades, evacuated thousands ahead of time.

One person died as Tropical Storm Pabuk, Thailand's first tropical storm in 30 years, made landfall on the country's south coast on Friday.

The storm — feared to be the worst to hit Thailand since 1989 — threatens to pound some of the country's popular island destinations such as Koh Samui, Phuket and Krabi with heavy downpours and strong winds. Over 6,100 people were evacuated from various provinces ahead of the storm, government officials said. 

On Friday the storm whipped up waves of 2 to 5 meters (6 to 16 feet), while gusting winds knocked down trees and blew the roofs off houses. The storm made landfall in the Pak Panang district in the Nakhon Si Thammarat province.

Disaster officials said that one member of a fishing boat crew had been killed when the boat capsized in the Pattani province due to high winds. One other crew member remained missing, while four others were reported safe. 

Nature and Environment | 15.05.2018
Catastrophe

Gas production suspended

Thai state energy company PTT was forced to suspend operations at two of the country's biggest gas fields directly in the path of the storm in the Gulf of Thailand. PTT said its personnel were evacuated to shore.

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Ferry services stopped

Thai authorities suspended ferry services connecting the popular tourist island of Koh Samui in Surat Thani province ahead of the storm. Seen here are waves whipped up by Storm Pabuk crashing into a ferry jetty in the province.

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Thousands evacuated

Thai authorities said more than 6,100 people had been evacuated from Nakhon Si Thammarat — one of the worst hit provinces — as well as the provinces of Pattani, Songkhla and Yala. The storm's approach also sent tens of thousands of tourists fleeing the popular beach resorts.

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Trail of destruction

Heavy downpours and winds of to 75 kilometers (47 miles) per hour knocked down trees and utility poles and blew off roofs. But Thai authorities said the storm was slowing and was expected to downgrade to be a tropical depression.

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Flooded streets

Storm Pabuk made landfall in the Pak Phanang district of Nakhon Si Thammarat province. The accompanying wind churned up high waves that caused flooding in several places.

Storm losing steam

On Thursday, the Thai Meteorological Department said the storm had been moving west into the Gulf of Thailand with maximum winds of 65 kilometers (40 miles) per hour.

By landfall Friday, however, officials said that the storm was losing speed.

"It is expected to downgrade to be a tropical depression," the Thai Meteorological Department said while still urging caution. "People should beware of the severe conditions that cause forest runoffs and flash floods."

Stormy conditions are expected to last through Saturday. Officials warned people to stay inside until the storm had passed.

Thursday preparations

Before hitting Thailand, the storm's approach sent tens of thousands of tourists fleeing the popular beach resorts where they been vacationing for the holiday season.

On Thursday Thai authorities suspended ferry services and began evacuations in the provinces of Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani, expected to be the worst hit. Surat Thani is home to the popular tourist islands of Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan.

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

Read more: The world's deadliest hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones

Three names - one phenomenon

Hurricane, typhoon, and cyclone are actually three names for the same phenomenon. Along the North American coast they are called hurricanes, in East and Southeast Asia they are called typhoons, and near India and Australia they are called cyclones. But despite the different names, they develop in the same way.

A cyclone is created

Tropical storms develop over oceans when the water temperature is at least 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit). As the warm water evaporates and condenses, the air around it heats up and drags cooler air upwards, creating powerful winds.

The eye of the storm

The Earth's rotation causes the air stream to move around the eye of the storm, which can be up to 50 kilometers wide. This area is nearly completely free of clouds and wind.

A storm hits land

When a tropical storm hits a coastline, it becomes weaker due to the lack of warm water. In Australia, "Marcia" was soon downgraded to a category one storm, while "Lam" weakened after striking near Brisbane. Masses of water from the sea often cause the worst damage - as seen here in China after Typhoon Nanmadol in August 2011.

Chaos ensues

Hurricane Sandy was one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean. It caused waves of up to 4 meters high, fires, power outages and broken dykes. Sandy arrived with winds at speeds of more than 145 kilometers per hour. Cuba, New York and New Jersey were particularly affected.

Destructive vortex

Tornadoes however, are non-tropical whirlwinds that can occur anywhere a storm is brewing. Local temperature differences force warm air upwards and cold air down, and a column of warm air rotates upwards at an increasing velocity. Tornadoes are usually only a maximum of 1 kilometer in diameter.

Fastest storms

As the warm air rises, it forms a funnel, the main characteristic of a tornado. Inside the funnel, the speed of the air can be tremendous - up to 500 kilometers per hour. Tornadoes are the fastest whirlwind type of weather phenomenon.

Trail of destruction

A tornado can leave a trail of destruction several kilometers long. In the US Midwest, tornadoes occur several hundred times a year, as dry, cold air from the north hits damp, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico. It's different in other countries - in Germany, for example, tornadoes occasionally occur along the coast.

Flights canceled

Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, which were packed with holiday-makers during the peak Christmas and New Year season, have emptied out since Wednesday.

"I think the islands are almost empty... between 30,000 and 50,000 have left since the New Year's Eve countdown parties," said Krikkrai Songthanee, Koh Phangan district chief.

Bangkok Airways, which has a virtual monopoly on the air route to Koh Samui, canceled all flights to and from the island, potentially stranding tourists.

Some hotel operators reported a few early checkouts and said they were prepared.

"Since the morning we have prepared sand bunkers and we have barricaded glass windows. We have also prepared first aid kits, torches, water, food and fuel for the hotel's power generator," said Ampawan Taopheng, manager of Lub D Koh Samui on Chaweng Beach.

Russian tourist dies

A Russian man drowned on Koh Samui on Wednesday after his family ignored warnings not to go into the sea.

"A family of three went swimming but the strong current caught a 56-year-old man who drowned," said Boonnam Srinarat, a local police officer.

"Island officials announced the warning and put up the red 'danger' flags... but maybe the family did not think the situation was that serious."

cmb/kms (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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