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Thai PM warns Bangkok to brace for flooding
by Staff Writers
Bangkok (AFP) Oct 20, 2011

Rome lashed by storm, elderly man drowns
Rome (AFP) Oct 20, 2011 - A violent storm which lashed the Italian capital on Thursday morning left one person dead and another missing, as the metro lines closed and buses and cars were caught up in flash floods.

Firefighters recovered the body of an elderly man who drowned in his flooded basement apartment, and emergency services were still searching for another aged person missing near Ostia, a town on the coast near Rome.

As the lightning and thunder persisted, both metro lines were heavily disrupted, with stations remaining open to provide shelter to commuters and tourists caught in the downpour.

There were severe delays on trains and flights out of Rome's Fiumicino airport. Cars with flooded engines blocked traffic in the capital's cobbled streets around the President's palace and the Sapienza University.

Rome's mayor Gianni Alemanno said he would declare "a state of emergency" but reassured citizens that the rain should ease up in the afternoon, significantly reducing the risk that the city's Tiber river would burst its banks.

Thailand's premier warned Thursday that it was impossible to stop the kingdom's worst floods in decades gushing into Bangkok, ordering the city's sluice gates to be opened to tackle the "national crisis".

The mass of muddy water crept closer to the low-lying capital, home to 12 million people, triggering an exodus in flood-stricken areas just outside Bangkok where residents waded through waist-deep water clutching belongings.

"We cannot block the water forever," said a sombre-looking Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

"The longer we block the water the higher it gets. We need areas that water can be drained through so the water can flow out to the sea.

"I have decided to ask Bangkok to open all gates, which could trigger an overflow, in order to drain water into the sea as soon as possible."

Yingluck, the sister of fugitive former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, is facing the biggest test so far of her fledgling administration and in recent days has appeared to be showing signs of strain.

In Nonthaburi Province, only a few kilometres (miles) north of Bangkok, people were seen wading through water with bags, boxes and suitcases as they abandoned their waterlogged homes.

"It was very scary when the water came," said Ruchuda Balisee, 40. "I'm worried about my dog, my son and my washing machine, which I just bought."

The prospect of serious flooding in the capital triggered a new rush to stock up on food and bottled water, while motorists parked hundreds of cars on bridges or elevated roads, prompting a police warning to move them.

Bangkok has so far escaped major flooding after the authorities reinforced floodwalls and diverted water to areas outside the capital to protect the country's political and economic heartland.

But a massive volume of run-off water is expected to reach the city by the weekend. It is hoped the water will run through Bangkok's many canals and out into the sea, but if there is too much water the waterways will overflow.

"Flood waters are coming from every direction and we cannot control them because it's a huge amount of water. We will try to warn people," said Yingluck, a political novice before taking office barely two months ago.

"This problem is very overwhelming. It's a national crisis so I hope to get cooperation from everybody."

Three months of heavy monsoon rains in Thailand have killed 320 people, damaged the homes and livelihoods of millions of people, mostly in the north and centre, and forced tens of thousands to seek refuge in shelters.

The authorities have warned that seven districts -- with a total official population of almost one million people -- are at particular risk in northern and eastern Bangkok.

Residents in those areas have been advised to unplug electrical appliances, move belongings to higher ground and study the city's evacuation plan.

Tens of thousands of soldiers and police have been mobilised to prevent people destroying flood defences.

The authorities have failed to protect a number of major industrial parks from the gushing brown water, which has inundated hundreds of factories outside Bangkok, disrupting production of cars, electronics and other goods.

The government says more than half a million people have been left without work.

Most of Thailand's main tourist attractions -- including the southern islands of Samui, Phuket and Phi Phi -- have been unaffected.

Bangkok's main airport, built on a drained marsh, is still operating as normal and its flood defences have been reinforced.

The capital has an extensive drainage system including 200 floodgates, 158 pump stations, seven giant underground tunnels and 1,682 canals covering 2,604 kilometres (1,618 miles), according to the city authorities.

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Exodus in flooded areas as waters near Bangkok
Bang Bua Thong, Thailand (AFP) Oct 20, 2011 - Distressed Thais hurriedly packed up and fled their homes in flood-stricken areas just north of Bangkok on Thursday as a sea of muddy water moved ever closer to the capital.

Bang Bua Thong, only a few kilometres (miles) outside Bangkok in Nonthaburi Province, had for weeks been spared the worst of the disaster, thanks to the district's hastily assembled defences.

But a mass of water from further north fuelled by months of unusually heavy monsoon rains proved too much -- and by Thursday, the district was submerged.

"It was very scary when the water came. It came up so fast through drains, toilets and the floor tiles under my cabinet. I have no idea how it came up through the floor tiles," Ruchuda Balisee, 40, told AFP.

"Roads near my house are destroyed."

An exodus was seen with people wading from their homes with bags, boxes and suitcases, while others searched for isolated relatives facing shortages of food, water and electricity.

Rescuers prioritised the safety of children and the elderly, a number of whom were greatly distressed after several days in isolation.

In front of the hospital, fire trucks were immersed up to the top of their wheels.

The street became a vast expanse of murky water, on which all kinds of boats moved in silence, instead of the usual flow of cars and motorcycles.

The fear was palpable. Many Thais are unable to swim but people had no choice but to wade through chest-deep waters. Some residents settled on bridges to await rescue.

At the hospital, patients were heard complaining about the lack of boats to rescue them, but others in the district were more accepting of the situation.

"I am fairly satisfied with the government's support," said Chat Thongthammachat, 62, waiting for a boat. "I know that many people need help so I do not blame them."

It is a scene that residents of Bangkok fear will be repeated in the capital, which has so far been protected by beefed up flood defences.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra warned Thursday it was impossible to stop the floods gushing into the city and ordered sluice gates to be opened to allow water to flow through canals and out to sea.

"The longer we block the water the higher it gets," she said.

The floods have killed 320 people around the country, damaged the homes and livelihoods of millions of people -- mostly in the north and centre -- and forced tens of thousands to seek refuge in shelters.

The prospect of serious flooding sparked a new round of stockpiling of food and water, while police warned residents to stop parking their vehicles on the elevated highways around the city.

"It is both dangerous and inconvenient," said General Panu Kerdlapphol, adding that many vehicles had already been towed away by the authorities.

Many homes and businesses in the capital have piled sandbags outside their entrances and soldiers have been deployed to protect floodwalls as anger grows among residents upriver bearing the brunt of the crisis.

Adding to the fearful mood, the fisheries department said a special "rapid movement" team has been set up to catch crocodiles which escaped from flooded farms, mostly in central Thailand.

"If you encounter a crocodile, don't panic," it advised in a statement. "Normally they are afraid of human beings. So just use a wooden stick or your hand to bang the water and the crocodile will swim away."


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Thai PM warns Bangkok to brace for flooding
Bangkok (AFP) Oct 20, 2011
Thailand's premier warned Thursday that it was impossible to stop the kingdom's worst floods in decades gushing into Bangkok, ordering the city's sluice gates to be opened to tackle the "national crisis". "We cannot block the water forever," a sombre-looking Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of fugitive former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, told reporters, in the biggest test so far ... read more

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