14 Of Thailand’s Most Catastrophic Natural Disasters

We learned yesterday that a nifty little thunderstorm may be heading Bangkok’s way this weekend.

Most of us will be welcoming a dose of rain with open arms after the oppressive heat and humidity of the last few weeks, not to mention the crippling droughts that have affected much of the rest of the country.

But although this thunderstorm shouldn’t cause too much worry, it’s undeniable that Thailand has always had a tumultuous relationship with unpredictable weather and, thanks to its geographic profile, has been hit by a number of catastrophic weather disasters over the years.

The biggest threats to Thailand weather-wise are droughts and floods; at their highest intensity, they can cause utter devastation, wipe out entire villages and even kill.

Here’s a chronological history of some of the worst weather disasters to hit Thailand in its recent past.

October 1962: Tropical Storm Harriet

Where: Nakhon Si Thammarat

thailand natural disasters

The path of Tropical Storm Harriet at 6 hour intervals

The weather system that would eventually become Tropical Storm Harriet started life off the coast of the Philippines before strengthening into a tropical storm 6 days later, making landfall in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. 60 mile/hour winds saw entire villages wiped out in Laem Talumphuk, with over 10,000 people made homeless and an approximate 935 deaths, according to the Thai Meteorological Department.

November 1988: Landslides

Where: Nakhon Si Thammarat

Landslides, usually prompted by intense flash flooding, are one of the most dangerous natural disasters facing Thailand thanks to the diverse topography of the country. Attention was brought to this threat during November 1988 when flooding and subsequent landslides plagued Ban Kathun Nuea, Phiphun and Ban Khiri Wong districts in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. Damages totalling ฿1 billion were recorded as well as 230 injuries and deaths.

November 1989: Typhoon Gay

Where: Provinces near the Gulf of Thailand

thailand natural disasters

Some of the damage caused by Typhoon Gay in Chumpon (by H. Pollmeier)

Typhoon Gay, also referred to as the Kavali Cyclone of 1989, caused 833 deaths and ฿11.7 billion of damage around the Gulf of Thailand, particularly in Chumphon Province. Described at the time as the worst typhoon to hit the Malay Peninsula in 35 years, Gay was a small but incredibly powerful cyclone, hitting Chumpon with winds of 115 miles/hour. Its unpredictably rapid development lead to many offshore deaths on vessels in the Gulf of Thailand, and it continued to cause carnage until it made landfall in India.

October 1990: Tropical Storm Ira

Where: Ubon Ratchathani

thailand natural disasters

Tropical Storm Ira on October 12 1990

The Pacific typhoon season of 1990 saw a huge number of storms emanate from the Philippines, one of which was Tropical Storm Ira. It caused heavy rains and severe flooding in Ubon Ratchathani province, killing at least 24 people and damaging 2,500 square miles of farmland at an economic cost of around ฿6 million baht.

November 1993: Flooding

Where: Trang, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Yala

A tropical depression in the region cause severe flooding for around two weeks in the southern provinces of Thailand in 1993, including in Trang, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Yala. 23 people are thought to have died in the disaster, which also caused a whopping US$1.3 billion in damage – the record for the most financially costly natural disaster in Thai history until the floods of 2010 and 2011.

November 1997: Tropical Storm Linda

Where: Gulf of Thailand, Nakhon Si Thammarat

thailand natural disasters

The eye of the storm in the Gulf of Thailand

Tropical Storm Linda caused significant destruction in Vietnam, killing 3,11 people, but also caused major damage when it hit Thailand too. It developed into a typhoon when it entered the Gulf of Thailand with 75 mile/hour winds, before weakening back to tropical storm level as it hit at Nakhon Si Thammarat with winds of 65 mile/hour, causing flash flooding across 6 districts. 164 deaths from the disaster were recorded in Thailand, 152 of which were fisherman caught at sea, while 88 square miles of cropland were also destroyed. The aftermath saw hundreds of dead fisherman’s bodies wash up on Thailand and Vietnam’s shores.

November 2000: Flooding

Where: Hat Yai

thailand natural disasters

Hat Yai – via phil.uk.net

Hat Yai down in Songkhla province experienced one of the most catastrophic floods Thailand had ever seen in 2000 after a 4-day monsoon, which saw 26 deaths and around ฿2 billion baht in damages. The event prompted research papers and investment into the best ways to reduce flood risk in the area, especially important as Hat Yai is such a large and important city for commerce, trade and administration in southern Thailand.

May 2001: Landslide

Where: Phrae

A deadly landslide occurred in Wang Chin district, Phrae, following two days of heavy rain in the region, which caused a total of 43 deaths. Officials laid blame for the disaster at the door of loggers who had long since decimated the forests in the surrounding mountainous area. 337 houses were also thought to have been destroyed.

August 2001: Landslide

Where: Phetchabun

Another landslide hit Thailand in 2001, this time affecting villages in Phetchabun province, killing 136 and injuring 109. The debris flow-food was particularly destructive thanks to the unusually high amount of rainfall in the area from Typhoon Usagi beforehand. Again blame for the situation was laid at the door of massive deforestation.

December 2004: Tsunami

Where: Khao Lak, Phuket, Krabi, Phang Nga and more

thailand natural disasters

The tsunami striking Ao Nang in Krabi province

Thailand was one of the countries hardest hit by the Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean, particularly the areas of Khao Lak, Phuket and Phang Nga. The village of Khao Lak received no warnings of the first wave and so saw at least as many as 3,950 deaths, including that of the grandson of HM King Bhumibol. 4,812 deaths in Thailand were confirmed altogether from the disaster (although authorities guess that this could be closer to 8,150 in actuality), as well as 8,458 injured and 4,499 missing.

thailand natural disasters

The aftermath of the disaster at Patong Beach, Phuket (by Milei.vencel)

May 2006: Flooding and Landslides

Where: Uttaradit, Sukhothai, Phrae, Lampang, Nan

Provinces in the north of Thailand, including Uttaradit, Sukhothai, Phrae, Lampang and Nan, were subject to serious flash flooding and deadly landslides resulting in 87 deaths. The heavy monsoon rains saw rivers and reservoirs overflow and deluge 357 villages in the area.

October 2006: Typhoon Xangsane

Where: 35 provinces in the central region

The Philippines and Vietnam bore the brunt of the destruction of this deadly typhoon as it made landfall in both countries but the aftermath caused significant flooding and landslides in Thailand too – across 35 provinces, mostly in the central region. Floodwaters damaged 810 square miles of farmland, 47 people died and reports of water pollution and water-borne disease increased significantly from the masses of stagnant floodwater.

October to December 2010: Flooding

Where: Northeast and Central Thailand, Southern Thailand

thailand natural disasters

The former government surveying the floods in an amoured vehicle (by Government of Thailand)

Flash floods once again plagued Thailand towards the end of 2010, with the Northeast and Central region affected by late monsoon moisture from the Bay of Bengal and the overflowing of the Chao Phraya river. Around 180 people were thought to have died.

In a separate incident, around two weeks later the south of the country was also flooded thanks to a tropical depression and the La Niña monsoon, seeing another 80 deaths.

The destruction of both series of floods were estimated by the government to have affected nearly 7 million people in over 25,000 villages throughout the country with total damages swinging in at around US$1.7 billion.

July 2011 to January 2012: Flooding

Where: 65 provinces throughout Thailand, especially central and northern parts

thailand natural disasters

A SH-60F Sea Hawk flying around Bangkok with the humanitarian survey team

July 2011 saw the start of Thailand’s worst flooding in over half a century which resulted in 815 deaths, economic losses totalling US$45.7 billion and 8,100 square miles of farmland damaged. The flooding spread to 65 provinces, affected 13.6 million people, and was particularly vociferous in the central and northern parts of the country. Part of Bangkok was inundated with flood water as the floods joined the mouth of the Chao Phraya river and even the runway complex of Don Mueang airport was totally submerged.


Were you in Thailand during any of these catastrophic natural disasters?



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