04/01/2019 11:38 GMT | Updated 04/01/2019 13:10 GMT

Storm Pabuk: Foreign Office Warns Against Travel To Thailand As It Braces For 'Worst Storm In 30 Years'

Storm Pabuk is expected to whip the southern Thai coast with winds of up to 40mph and waves up to 16ft high.

Popular tourist beaches in Thailand are being evacuated ahead of a tropical storm feared to be the worst to hit the country in 30 years.

Rain is already falling around the Gulf of Thailand and officials warned that torrential downpours, strong winds and rough seas are forecast when Tropical Storm Pabuk reaches land on Friday.

The storm has arrived as tourist season in the country reaches its peak, with Phuket International Airport warning travellers to check their flight status and Bangkok Airways cancelling some flights.

The Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to areas on the Thai-Malaysian border, as the south-east Asian country sees more than 1 million visits from British tourists each year.

A Russian tourist in Koh Samui drowned as he tried to rescue his daughter, who was struggling in strong surf, in what is believed to be related to the storm.

Pabuk could be the worst storm to hit Thailand since 1989, when Typhoon Gay left more than 400 people dead. Some 900 people were killed in similar conditions during a storm in 1962.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is holding a conference with 16 governors to discuss the emergency operation, including digging canals to run off floodwaters, mobilising rescue vehicles, ordering all boats to be docked, and readying medical facilities.

“There will be heavy rainfall and we have to prepare for flooding or an impact on transportation,” he said.

“We are ready ourselves, but if the rainfall is high we will need some time to resolve problems.”

The storm will lash Thailand’s east coast until Saturday, with the provinces of Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat expected to be hardest hit, Thailand’s Meteorological Department said.

Surat Thani is home to the popular tourist islands of Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan.

The department said the storm was moving west into the Gulf of Thailand with maximum winds of 40mph, while waves could reach five metres in height in the Gulf of Thailand and two to three metres (6ft to 10ft) high in the Andaman Sea on the west coast.