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Thai capital's barriers hold but floods still menace
by Staff Writers
Bangkok (AFP) Oct 16, 2011

Thai capital's barriers hold but floods still menace
Bangkok (AFP) Oct 16, 2011 - Flood defences shielding the Thai capital held up on Sunday as officials expressed confidence that the city of 12 million people would escape severe inundation in a disaster that has claimed 300 lives.

Thailand's worst floods in decades have swamped huge swathes of the kingdom, swallowing homes and businesses, shutting down industry, and forcing tens of thousands of people to seek refuge in shelters.

Authorities are battling to protect the capital which is ringed by defensive walls that have so far largely prevented major flooding. But their efforts have left areas outside the city to bear the brunt of the deluge.

Agriculture minister Theera Wongsamut said there were "good signs" that the situation would improve and water levels in provinces north of the capital were "likely to decrease" as water drains towards the sea.

"A large amount of water from the north flowed past Bangkok to the Gulf of Thailand yesterday," he said.

He added that water levels would be "stable" from now on, easing fears over a seasonal high tide that could worsen the situation in the next few days by making it harder for water to flow out to sea.

The next high tide period will be between October 28 and 30, officials said.

Three months of heavy monsoon rains have deluged parts of central and northern Thailand causing floods -- several metres deep in places -- affecting about one third of Thailand's provinces and leaving at least 297 people dead.

From the edge of the capital a vast flood plain stretches north for some 200 kilometres (124 miles), with the ancient city of Ayutthaya and surrounding areas in the centre of the waterlogged region.

An AFP photographer travelling in a Thai army relief helicopter said the only land visible in some areas are overpasses packed with vehicles and people desperate to reach higher ground.

"It was a sea, with only tree tops and the roofs of houses visible above the water," he said.

People have swapped their cars for boats and improvised rafts and locals in one isolated village swam from their homes to collect air-dropped rations.

Ten United States Marines were in the country to assess what humanitarian assistance could be provided, the US embassy said.

Sandbags have been piled alongside waterways and authorities have been dredging and draining canals to allow more water to flow through and are diverting the over flow to waterways outside the main city.

Conditions in Bangkok remain mostly normal and Suvarnabhumi Airport -- the capital's main air hub which has floodwalls several metres high -- was operating as usual.

As heavy rains continue, homes and businesses in inner Bangkok have been fortified with sandbags in preparation for possible inundation, and many residents have stocked up on food, water and flashlights.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra called for unity in the face of the crisis on Sunday morning as authorities tried to speed the water flow towards the sea by lining up around a thousand boats with engines running on the Chao Phraya, Bang Pa Kong and Tha Chin rivers.

Yingluck, speaking from the banks of the Chao Phraya in Nonthaburi province, north of Bangkok, said the boats' propellers would move only a relatively small amount of water but that the measure was still "worthwhile and efficient".

The floods have dealt a heavy blow to Thailand's economy, disrupting production of cars, electronics and other goods.

Japanese automakers including Toyota have suspended production in the kingdom due to water damage to facilities or a shortage of components.

A series of industrial estates have been waterlogged in Ayutthaya, swamping scores of factories.

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Soldiers and sandbags defend Bangkok from floods
Bangkok (AFP) Oct 15, 2011 - Thousands of sandbags piled alongside a canal on the northern edge of Bangkok form the last line of defence between the city of 12 million people and a wall of floodwater bearing down on the capital.

The emergency dyke is part of huge efforts to keep Thailand's worst floods in decades from pouring into the densely populated city from the central plains, which are several metres under water in places.

If the defences give way, 72-year-old Chalam Khetrum's house will be one of the first in the path of the muddy waters.

"I've added more sandbags in my backyard because the water came through the back first. At the front the barrier's still holding up but if it breaks I'll be in big trouble," said Chalam, who lives just south of the flood barrier.

Inner Bangkok has so far escaped major flooding as the authorities divert water to areas outside the main city in a bid to prevent the Chao Phraya River bursting its banks and flooding the political and economic heartland.

The capital was bracing for a large amount of run-off water along with seasonal high tides that were making it harder for the flood waters to flow out to sea.

Sandbags have been piled in front of homes and businesses in preparation for possible inundation, and some residents have chosen to leave their vehicles in multi-storey carparks while stocking up on food, water and flashlights.

The authorities called in the military to bolster the floodwalls and said they were confident they could prevent severe inundation in the centre of the low-lying capital.

"The flood protection wall is 4.3 metres (14 feet) high," Therdthum Wongkalasin, a civil engineer with the government's irrigation department, said as he surveyed the last line of defence.

"We can put up more sandbags to increase the wall height. We can say Bangkok is safe because we now have a lot of help from soldiers."

On the other side of the flood defences, in the flood-stricken province of Pratum Thani, Chanvut Wongphet's home has been inundated for several days.

He built a concrete wall almost half a metre high at the entrance but the waist-high water is still leaking through, and his family is working the water pump on round-the-clock shifts.

In the streets near his home, boats have replaced cars.

He said he understood why the government focused its efforts on keeping Bangkok dry, but feared things could get even worse for him.

"They're trying to protect the area which will affect the country the most. I accept that but the aid still needs to keep coming to the people who are already in trouble," the 45-year-old said.

"We can live now but what I'm worried about is if the electricity and water are cut. It will be difficult. I won't be able to pump water out and the flood will leak into my house and we will have to live on the second floor."

Even inside the flood barriers, many residents are moving belongings to the second floor despite the government's reassurances.

"I sometimes wake up during the night to see if everything is OK. I've packed up and moved everything I can to the second floor," said Chalam.

"Whatever happens, happens. But I still believe it will be OK because they can't let the wall collapse otherwise Bangkok will be under water," she added.


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