Tropical storm's rain, surging seas strike Thai beaches

NAKHON SI THAMMARAT, Thailand — Rain, wind and surging seawater from a tropical storm buffeted coastal villages and world-famous tourist resorts on southern Thailand's east coast on Friday, knocking down trees and utility poles and flooding roads.

One person was reported dead and another missing after a fishing boat with a crew of six capsized in high waves, but there were no reports of major damage by nightfall. It appeared that Tropical Storm Pabuk caused aggravation during the country's high tourist season but less damage than had been feared.

Airlines and boat operators suspended operations for safety reasons and tourists were forced to change travel plans.

Beaches were closed, but even with the bad weather approaching, tourists on the popular island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand continued to patronize bars and restaurants catering to them.

That was good fortune for the tourism industry, whose safety problems were highlighted last July when 47 Chinese tourists drowned after their boat sank in rough seas near the popular resort of Phuket.

Ahead of this week's storm, more than 6,100 people in four provinces were evacuated, according to the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.

The Meteorological Department said the storm had maximum sustained winds of 65 kilometers (40 miles) per hour at late afternoon, down from 75 kph (47 mph) when it hit land shortly after noon.

It continued to warn of strong winds and waves 3-5 meters (10 to 16 feet) high in the Gulf of Thailand and 2-3 meters (6 to 10 feet) in the Andaman Sea. It advised all ships to stay ashore through Saturday and warned of possible storm surges on the Gulf coast.

"We can expect heavy rain and downpours, flooding and flash floods in the area throughout the night," department Director-General Phuwieng Prakhammintara said.

Evacuation efforts were especially intense in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, about 800 kilometers (480 miles) south of Bangkok, where authorities sent trucks through flooded streets with downed power lines, urging people in danger zones to leave.

"You cannot stay here. It's too dangerous," they repeated from truck-mounted loudspeakers.

Koh Samui appeared to have been spared much of the brunt of the storm.

Rain there stopped by Friday evening, said Joe Kieta, and American visitor, "so it seems like the worst is past us."

Kieta, editor of California's Fresno Bee newspaper, said in an email that roads on the island had light debris, his hotel's beach area was closed and guests were discouraged from going out.

Southern Thailand also has popular resort destinations on its west coast on the Andaman Sea, and they now await the storm.

The navy said Thailand's sole aircraft carrier, the HTMS Chakri Naruebet, was on standby at its base east of Bangkok, prepared to sail to help with relief efforts at a moment's notice.

PTT Exploration and Production Public Co. Ltd. said it inspected its offshore gas platforms in the Gulf of Thailand and plans to resume production on Sunday. It said all staff were safe.

There had been fears that the storm would 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.

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