Officials say the person killed was among the crew of a fishing boat that capsized in winds near the coast of nearby Pattani province. Authorities suspended airports and ferry services ahead of Thailand's first tropical storm in three decades.

Thai man walk close to a sandbank, which was built to protect properties of seaside communities in Songkhla, Thailand on Thursday, January 3, 2019.
Thai man walk close to a sandbank, which was built to protect properties of seaside communities in Songkhla, Thailand on Thursday, January 3, 2019. (AP)

Thailand's first tropical storm in three decades killed one person on Friday as it arrived on the south coast, knocking down trees and blowing off roofs in its path, but was losing speed, officials said, while warning against the risk of flash floods.

Accompanying winds churned up high waves and gusts in the Gulf of Thailand as tropical storm Pabuk made landfall in the Pak Phanang district of Nakhon Si Thammarat province, where trees crashed down on houses to cause widespread damage.

Disaster mitigation officials said the person killed was among the crew of a fishing boat that capsized in strong winds near the coast of nearby Pattani province. Another of the crew was missing, but four others were safe.

Weather officials warned of torrential downpours and strong winds in 15 provinces in the Thai south, home to one of the world's largest natural rubber plantations and several islands thronged by tourists.

Slowing storm

But by Friday afternoon, the storm was slowing, and was heading for the province of Surat Thani, the Thai Meteorological Department said in a statement.

"It is expected to downgrade to be a tropical depression," it added. "People should beware of the severe conditions that cause forest runoffs and flash floods."

The conditions are expected to persist into Saturday. With airports and ferry services shut, people were advised to stay indoors until the storm passed.

The National Disaster Warning Center also sounded alarms around tourist beach destinations, such as Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, urging people to leave high-risk areas for higher ground.

During the past few days, 6,176 people have been evacuated to shelters from Nakhon Si Thammarat as well as the provinces of Pattani, Songkhla and Yala, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation has said.

Walls of water

Social media videos showed oil rigs being battered by waves, and tankers navigating terrifying walls of water.

With rains lashing the entire south, the Meteorological Department warned coastal communities to expect "inshore surges" as winds whip up the sea.

Authorities have opened evacuation shelters for vulnerable communities across Thailand's southernmost provinces.

Pabuk is forecast to pass over the narrow neck of land between the Gulf of Thailand and into the Andaman Sea.

Tens of thousands of tourists have already fled the southern zone.

"It's very empty... the beaches are deserted of tourists," Pui Suriwan, a Koh Phangan resident, told AFP.

'We're ready to bunker down'

On neighbouring Koh Tao, one of Southeast Asia's most popular dive spots, tourists and residents braced for a torrid 24 hours ahead.

"The weather is turning worse as the winds pick up, I've finished buying supplies... there's no gas anywhere on the island, 7/11 is already running out of things," a Spanish dive instructor told AFP.

"We're ready to bunker down."

Flights into Surat Thani, the gateway to Koh Samui, were nearly empty on Friday morning, a rare sight in Thailand's lucrative peak holiday season.

Thailand's economy is heavily reliant on tourism with the latest figures for 2017 showing the kingdom made nearly $60 billion from the sector.

Tourism was hit hard by a boat accident in Phuket in July last year when scores of Chinese tourists died as their overcrowded boat capsized in heavy seas.

Visitor numbers from China, Thailand's biggest market, slumped after the accident.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies