Storm Pabuk: Tourists flee Thai islands after weather warnings

Koh Phangnan beach Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Storm Pabuk is expected to hit several tourist hotspots including Koh Phangnan (pictured)

Thousands of tourists and residents have reportedly fled islands off Thailand's south-east coast to escape an approaching tropical storm.

Authorities have also been preparing shelters for those deciding to stay put.

Thailand's Met Office says Tropical Storm Pabuk will bring strong winds and 7 metre (22 ft) waves but it is unlikely to become a typhoon.

A weather warning has been issued but no evacuation order is in place.

The storm is expected hit the country's southern coast from Thursday, causing heavy rainfall and possible flash flooding.

Thailand's Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said the military was on alert to assist people affected.

Among those areas in the path of the storm is Surat Thani, home to the popular tourist islands of Koh Phangnan, Koh Samui and Koh Tao.

Visitor numbers to the islands usually peak over the Christmas and New Year period.

"I think the islands are almost empty," Krikkrai Songthanee, Koh Phangnan's district chief, told AFP.

Images are circulating on social media of tourists and residents leaving various islands by boat for the Thai mainland.

However, bans on boats have been enforced in several areas including Kho Phi Phi because of safety concerns. As a result, many tourists have been forced to stay put.

Swimming has also been banned in Koh Samui. But videos of people still swimming in the island are circulating on social media.

Bangkok Airways said it had cancelled some flights, whilst other airlines said they were monitoring the weather.

Authorities on some islands have avoided enforcing bans or advising evacuations altogether.

Chaiyan Thurasakul, mayor of the Koh Tao Subdistrict Municipality, told BBC Thai the island had prepared for possible floods, landslides and strong waves.

"If the storm is severe for two to three days, we may have to ask for help from the mainland for shipment of necessary items," said Mr Thurasakul.

Pabuk - which means giant catfish in Lao - is the first storm in nearly thirty years to hit the region outside monsoon season, which ends around November.

In 2011, devastating floods in Thailand killed 600 people and displaced thousands of others in more than a third of the country's provinces.

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