Rain, wind and surging seawater have buffeted coastal villages and world-famous tourist resorts after Tropical Storm Pabuk made landfall on southern Thailand’s east coast.
The storm, with maximum sustained winds of 42mph, hit the shore of Nakhon Si Thammarat province and was roaring westwards, said Phuwieng Prakhammintara, director-general of the Thai Meteorological Department.
“We can expect heavy rain and downpours, flooding and flash floods in the area throughout the night,” he warned at a news conference.
Authorities in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, about 480 miles south of Bangkok, had earlier driven trucks through flooded streets with downed power lines, urging people to leave.
“Anyone still inside, please make noise and officials will help you out. You cannot stay here. You cannot stay here. It’s too dangerous,” they said from truck-mounted loudspeakers.
While torrential rain and strong winds are expected to affect more than a dozen other provinces, Nakon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani, home to the tourist islands of Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, are expected to be the hardest hit.
The Meteorological Department said waves 10ft to 16ft high were possible in the Gulf of Thailand on the east coast, and 6ft to 10ft in the Andaman Sea on the west coast.
It warned of strong winds and storm surges on the gulf side and said all ships should stay berthed on land until Saturday.
Thai authorities suspended ferry services in the Gulf of Thailand and flights to Nakhon Si Thammarat and Koh Samui were cancelled.
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 left more than 400 people dead. A tropical storm in 1962 killed more than 900 people in the south.
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 Thai 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.