Thousands of Tourists, Residents Evacuate Thailand Beaches Before Tropical Storm
Thousands of tourists and residents alike are fleeing Thailand's popular southeastern beaches for higher ground ahead of a major tropical storm forecast to hit the island nation.
Experts say tropical storm Pabuk will hit Thailand's southern coast on Friday. The BBC reports that strong winds and up to 22-foot waves are expected, along with heavy rain and flash floods. Pabuk is not, however, predicted to turn into a typhoon. Officials told CNN that the storm could still be one of the most devastating in decades.
Popular beaches are in the storm's path, including the tourist islands of Koh Phangnan, Koh Samui and Koh Tao, as well as Phuket and Koh Phi Phi. As of now, there is no official evacuation order for the regions predicted to be affected by the storm, just a weather warning. But would-be beachgoers have been leaving the southern region in droves. The chilly winter months are usually peak travel season for visitors to Thailand.
According to BBC, tourists were leaving the smaller resort islands by boat for the country's main island, but a ban on boats in several areas has forced some tourists to forgo evacuation and stay where they are.
"It is high season, there are many foreign tourists at popular destinations," Putthipong Punnakanta, a Thai government spokesperson, told CNN. "We have informed them in advance since two days ago. I would say most of them have left islands and come to the mainland."
Officials are reportedly preparing shelters for those residents and visitors riding out the storm in the area.
Bangkok Airways canceled all flights to and from Samui Airport on Friday. The airline, which is practically the only carrier that flies to the island, tweeted that all affected passengers would be able to rebook without incurring a change fee. The larger Phuket International Airport will remain operational, with ground crews exercising increased caution in the heavy rain and wind.
“In order to prepare for the situation, staff have been ordered to increase their inspections of systems operating all lights at the airport, and especially on the runway,” airport officials told The Phuket News.
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