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Aid effort a huge undertaking amid massive flooding in Thailand

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
updated 9:30 PM EDT, Sat October 15, 2011
Sandbags surround temples in Ayutthaya on October 13, 2011 in an attempt to keep the rising waters out. Sandbags surround temples in Ayutthaya on October 13, 2011 in an attempt to keep the rising waters out.
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Thailand battles severe flooding
Thailand battles severe flooding
Thailand battles severe flooding
Thailand battles severe flooding
Thailand battles severe flooding
Thailand battles severe flooding
Thailand battles severe flooding
Thailand battles severe flooding
Thailand battles severe flooding
Thailand battles severe flooding
Thailand battles severe flooding
Thailand battles severe flooding
Thailand battles severe flooding
Thailand battles severe flooding
Thailand battles severe flooding
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 8 million people are affected by the floods, which have killed 283 people
  • Thais are leading the aid effort, providing their countrymen with food, water and clothing
  • Temples have become a place of refuge for those whose homes are submerged

Bangkok (CNN) -- More than two months of floods and 8 million people affected -- the disaster in Thailand is immense; the aid effort a challenge.

Much of the effort appears to be internally driven. Thais across the country are donating food, water and clothing to help their countrymen in the worst-hit areas. Donations have far surpassed previous years. Floods happen every year here, but these are the worst in half a century and have left at least 283 dead.

The Thai military and aid groups share the responsibility of distributing the life-saving supplies. In the ancient city of Ayutthara, one of the worst-hit regions, military trucks move slowly down the main street, cutting through a constant river of water, passing out aid to those who can get close.

Anyone who has a boat is using it to transport aid or to help neighbors carrying their possessions as water levels rise and engulf homes. Those who don't have a boat are making do with rubber tires or even slabs of Styrofoam. There is a true sense of teamwork between the communities.

Getting aid to Thailand's flood victims
Floods bear down on Thailand's capital
Stranded elephants in need of food
Residents evacuate from Thai floodwaters
Thai map shows flooded areasThai map shows flooded areas

The Bangkok suburb of Sam Kok is sandwiched between the overflowing Chao Phraya River and the 2.5-meter floodwalls that are so far successfully protecting the inner and commercial part of the capital. The water here has nowhere to go and levels are rising fast.

La Sinsap, 60, has had to move into the local temple as his house is completely submerged. He says the situation is dire and help is not getting there fast enough to those who don't live on the main street.

"It's very bad around here," he told CNN. "We don't have enough to eat."

Temples are playing a significant role in the disaster. Thailand is overwhelmingly Buddhist and many temples, although flooded themselves, have some dry floors on higher ground and have opened their doors to those in need.

Monk Somkuan Thanajaro says it will take a long time to fix the waterlogged temple where Sinsap is staying. Huge Buddhas sit in stagnant water along what was once a river bank. The worry is if the water doesn't recede soon, the damage to these historic monuments could be permanent.

But Thanajaro's first concern is helping his community, many of whom are now sleeping in the temple. "Whenever we get donations, we share it all with the villagers," he says.

The international community is responding to the disasters playing out across Thailand. China has donated $1.5 million and the United States $1 million. The U.S. is also sending 26 helicopters to help the relief effort, invaluable as more roads turn to rivers and become impassable.

United Nations agencies also are on standby, activating their assessment teams and contingency planning in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The World Health Organization has offered emergency health kits.

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