Bangkok: Thousands of people are fleeing Thai islands popular with tourists ahead of what could be the most devastating storm to hit in decades, officials said.
Thailand's south is bracing for the country's most powerful tropical storm in decades, which is expected to disrupt oil and gas production and force thousands of international tourists to flee its beaches and islands.
Widespread rainfall with torrential downpours and strong wind is expected Friday and Saturday in all provinces in the south, the Meteorological Department said on its website.
The affected areas include Phuket, Krabi, and Surat Thani, where Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao - among the country's most popular destinations - sit just off the coast.
The storm has disrupted the peak period for the Thai tourism industry, which makes up about a quarter of the economy. Overseas visitor numbers have only just recovered after a slump following a tour boat accident off Phuket in July that killed dozens of Chinese holidaymakers.
Bangkok Airways PCL cancelled all flights from its main hub on Koh Samui, while other airlines including Thai Airways International PCL and AirAsia's Thai affiliate advised passengers traveling to and from southern Thailand to check flight statuses.
Authorities ordered all ships and ferries in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea to be kept ashore.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha has "great concern" about the impact of the incoming storm on people in 16 southern provinces, according to a statement on the government's website. He has ordered all departments to prepare for rescue missions, it said.
More than 30,000 people along coastline in Nakhon Si Thammarat province have been evacuated, The Nation newspaper reported Friday. Villagers in the province are concerned the incoming storm may be similar to the natural disaster in 1962 that killed more than 900 people, according to the newspaper. In 1989, Typhoon Gay killed more than 900 people in the Gulf of Thailand.
Tropical Storm Pabuk, with winds of 80 kilometers (49.7 miles) per hour, has been moving through the Gulf of Thailand and will make a landfall on Friday afternoon before traveling across the peninsula to the Andaman Sea, according to the government.
PTT Exploration & Production PCL has suspended production from its platforms near the path of storm. The output of natural gas and crude oil has dropped as a result and the government is seeking imports as a substitute to ensure there's no disruption to electricity production, the energy ministry said Wednesday.