KHAO LAK, Thailand (AFP) – Tens of thousands of tourists have fled some of Thailand’s most popular islands and resort areas as Tropical Storm Pabuk closes in and threatens to batter the southern part of the kingdom with heavy rains, winds and seven-metre waves.
The islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, packed with holiday-makers during the peak Christmas and New Year season, have emptied out since Wednesday as tourists squeeze onto ferries bound for the southern Thai mainland, with swimming banned and boats set to suspend services.
Pabuk, Thailand’s first tropical storm in the area outside of the monsoon season for around 30 years, is poised to hit the two islands as well as neighbouring Koh Samui this afternoon, before cutting into the mainland.
Packing winds of 104 kilometres per hour, Pabuk is unlikely to intensify into a full-blown typhoon, according to forecasters.
“But we expect waves as high as five or seven metres near the eye of the storm,” Head of the Thai Meteorological Department Phuwieng Prakammaintara told reporters.
No official evacuation order has been given but tourists are leaving in droves, with those unable to book flights preparing to see out the storm on eerily deserted islands.
“I think the islands are almost empty… between 30,000 to 50,000 have left since the New Year’s Eve countdown parties,” Koh Phangan District Chief Krikkrai Songthanee told AFP.
The Acting Mayor of Koh Tao, one of Southeast Asia’s finest diving spots, said boats to Chumphon on the mainland were crammed with tourists, but several thousand guests were still on the island likely to brave the storm.
“It’s difficult to predict the severity of the storm so people should comply with authorities’ recommendations,” the Acting Mayor said.