Oil workers evacuate as tropical storm threatens gulf

Two oil exploration and production firms began evacuating more than 1,200 workers from offshore drilling rigs in the Gulf of Thailand as a tropical storm was forecast to strike Malaysia and affect southern Thailand.

PTT Exploration and Production Plc and Chevron Thailand Exploration and Production Co yesterday alerted their offshore drilling sites about the threat from tropical storm Sonamu and ordered them to prepare for evacuation.

Thailand's Meteorological Department warned the lower south of the country would be affected by heavy rain from tomorrow until Wednesday.

Chevron began evacuating some of its offshore staff by helicopter yesterday to Nakhon Si Thammarat, Songkhla and Chon Buri.

PTT planned to evacuate its offshore staff to Koh Samui.

The Meteorological Department issued a warning about 10am yesterday saying provinces from Nakhon Si Thammarat and further south should brace for torrential rain during the three-day period when the region was expected to be affected by Sonamu.

The lingering impact of the northern cold spell that was resulting in rough seas and rain in the South would continue to cause waves of about two metres in the area, the department said.

Meanwhile, floods triggered by heavy rain in Thailand's southernmost provinces have started receding.

In Yala's Raman district, the rain has stopped and the water level of the Sai Buri River has dropped slightly.

More than 100 households along the river are still affected by flooding. The water has cut off access to several villages, causing transportation problems for locals who now have to commute by boat.

Local rubber farmers said they hoped trees could be tapped in about 15 days because they would be damaged if submerged for a prolonged period.

In Narathiwat province, the flood situation was stable after the rain stopped two days ago.

However, many residential and farming areas were still inundated. The most critical zone was in Sungai Kolok municipal area where more than 50 families were evacuated to a local school.

Water levels were as high as 120cm, fuelled by run-off from mountains in Sukhirin district and the brimming Sungai Kolok River.

Many locals have been catching fish that have come with the currents. This has provided them with 200-300 baht each per day during this period when they have been unable to work on rubber plantations.

A local army unit yesterday handed out bags of essentials to evacuees, mostly elderly people and children.

Some of them had reportedly started to suffer from waterborne diseases.

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Writer: Nucharee Rakrun