Bangkok (AFP) Nov 2, 2010
Thailand battled Tuesday to rescue thousands of people stranded in their homes after flash floods -- several metres deep in places -- swept through a southern city, cutting power and communications.
Heavy flooding has already killed more than 100 people around the country since October 10 in what Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva described as "a huge natural calamity".
Rising waters began to inundate Hat Yai, a city of more than 150,000 in Songkhla province, late Monday after days of heavy downpours, affecting tens of thousands of people, possibly including foreign tourists.
At least two people were reported to have died in the south and power and telephone communications on the popular tourist island of Samui were reported to have been disrupted, along with ferry services.
Samui airport was closed temporarily due to heavy downpours and poor visibility, affecting an estimated 1,400 passengers on domestic and international flights.
About 100 foreign tourists were reported to be stranded on nearby Angthong Island because of high waves.
Viroch Phomchai, regional director of the government's department of disaster prevention and mitigation, told AFP of the situation in Hat Yai: "I believe that thousands are trapped in their houses.
"I've tried to contact large hotels in Hat Yai city but communications are down, so I think many tourists are stranded."
The area is particularly popular with people from Malaysia and Singapore.
Television pictures showed some buildings submerged almost up to their roofs in the low-lying city near the southern border.
In neighbouring Malaysia, schools were shut and more than 12,000 people evacuated in two northern states due to floods.
Earlier, Hat Yai mayor Prai Pattano had estimated that tens of thousands of people were stranded in their homes because of the flood water, which he said was three to four metres (up to 13 feet) deep in some areas.
The authorities estimate that almost six million people across Thailand have been affected by the disaster over the past three weeks, with homes submerged and farmland or cattle destroyed.
"There are many serious problems in the south as all types of communications as well as roads were cut off. I will focus on how to rescue stranded people," Abhisit told reporters before a planned trip to the region.
"The water level is very high and there is no sign that it will begin to recede," he said.
A hospital in the region was forced to evacuate patients on Monday after the area was hit by flash floods.
All train services to Hat Yai were halted after two-metre-deep waters flooded the track and platform, the state-owned rail operator said in a statement.
A storm could bring very heavy rain and waves up to five metres high, the meteorological department warned.
The government sent several plane-loads of emergency items to the south along with two ships which will provide medical and logistical support for the relief operation.
"Our mission priorities are to save lives and bring food and medicine," said defence ministry spokesman Colonel Thanatip Sawangsaeng.
The floods have affected dozens of provinces around the country, although the waters have receded in some areas.
Bangkok has been on standby but has so far avoided major flooding.
Abhisit said his government had spent almost half of its emergency budget of 47 billion baht (1.6 billion dollars) in the past few days to help flood victims across the country and would have to find more funds.
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