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Tropical Storm Pabuk lashes southern Thailand

Thousands of people were left stranded on Thailand's southern gulf coast as Tropical Storm Pabuk made landfall.

Posted: Jan 6, 2019 5:35 PM
Updated: Jan 6, 2019 5:37 PM

Tropical Storm Pabuk has been downgraded to a depression and is moving into the Andaman Sea after claiming three lives as it swept across Thailand, Thai authorities said Saturday.

Two elderly people drowned in Nakhon Si Thammarat, and a third person died after his fishing boat capsized in Pattani, according to Thailand's Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.

The storm, which blew through outlying islands off Thailand's eastern coast Friday before crossing mainland provinces, has now reached the Andaman Sea on the western side of the country, Thai Meteorological Department spokesman Phuwieng Prakhammintara told reporters.

Pabuk made landfall Friday in the Pak Panang district of Nakhon Si Thammarat province around 3:30 p.m. (3:30 a.m. ET), with maximum sustained wind speeds of 95 kilometers per hour (59 mph), according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

The storm uprooted trees, brought down power lines, flooded streets and tore the roofs off some properties but did not appear to have caused wide destruction.

Chayapol Thitisak, director general of the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, told CNN the extent of the damage was still being assessed but estimated that several tens of thousands of people had been affected.

Pak Panang residents who sought shelter in evacuation centers returned to coastal areas Saturday as the worst of the storm cleared.

Some of the country's most popular tourist destinations, including Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao islands, along with islands in the Andaman Sea such as Phuket and Koh Phi Phi -- made famous by the movie "The Beach" -- were also affected by Pabuk during what is peak holiday season.

While thousands quit the islands ahead of the storm's arrival, some vacationers were temporarily stranded.

Flight and ferry services to Koh Samui resumed Saturday afternoon, according to the island's chief, Kittipop Roddon. However, the boat service to Koh Tao remained suspended due to high waves, he said.

Flights also resumed Saturday to airports in the eastern Gulf of Thailand area.

Forecasters warned that torrential rain dumped by Pabuk over southern Thailand could bring flooding, with the possibility of mudslides from the Phuket mountain range on the western side of the peninsula.

It is highly unusual for tropical storms and typhoons to make landfall in Thailand. The last time a tropical storm made landfall in Thailand was in 1962, when Tropical Storm Harriet claimed 900 lives. The only typhoon ever to make landfall in the Southeast Asian nation was Typhoon Gay in 1989.

The Royal Thai Navy's only aircraft carrier has been deployed along with two other ships to assist with rescue and relief operations, according to broadcaster Thai PBS.

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