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More flooding to hit Thai capital, PM warns

From Paula Hancocks, CNN
updated 5:28 AM EDT, Sat October 22, 2011
Bangkok residents cross flood waters as Thailand prepares for more rain.
Bangkok residents cross flood waters as Thailand prepares for more rain.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Thailand's prime minister warns of more flooding to come in the capital
  • NEW: More than 113,000 people have taken refuge in emergency shelters
  • Floodwaters pour through the northern Bangkok suburb of Rangsit
  • The flooding is the worst in Thailand in half a century

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra warned Saturday that more water would pour into the capital, Bangkok, as the country endures its worst flood in half a century, state media reported.

Giving her weekly television address to the nation, Shinawatra said efforts were being made to manage the flow of floodwaters to minimize the impact on residents.

Extra protection would be given to historical sites, palaces, hospitals, business districts, utilities and transportation infrastructure, state-run news agency MCOT quoted her as saying.

The government has set up more than 1,700 shelters for victims of flooding in affected provinces, Shinawatra said, according to the agency. There are currently more than 113,000 people staying at the shelters, which can cater for about 800,000, she said.

Floodwaters swamp Bangkok, Thailand

The government had hoped that strengthening flood barriers and widening canals would keep populated areas safe.

But now the government is trying a different tack: opening floodgates to relieve pressure on dams and levees and send the water toward the sea.

The decision to divert water through canals in Bangkok means parts of the city, and its surrounding suburbs such as Rangsit, are flooded.

The flooding, which follows months of monsoon rains, has already killed 356 people, with nearly 9 million others affected, authorities said.

Overall damage from the floods could top $2 billion, with the worst yet to come as the waters destroy shops and paralyze factories nationwide, the Thai Finance Ministry said.

Many residents waded through dirty water in the capital Friday as they made a desperate attempt to save their belongings.

Among them was a teary-eyed woman named Surirat Prapankarn, from a suburb outside Bangkok, who could be seen lugging her sodden possessions through waist-high water.

Pulling her things out of her front room, Prapankarn said she was overcome with sadness when she looked at her destroyed home and at what had been lost.

She wondered how she would find food for her 16 dogs.

Waters rose overnight in the northern Bangkok suburb of Rangsit, giving residents little chance to save what they could.

The lucky few moved out of flooded homes by boat, or anything that could float. The rest waded through water with plastic bags balanced on their heads.

Pets could be seen tucked into coats or pushed inside boats. Children, meanwhile, seemed to struggle to stay on their feet against the fast-moving water.

Another resident, named Saisamorn Pongsairak, said she had lived in the inundated Rangsit neighborhood all her life.

"I woke up this morning around 2 a.m. and the water was only at my ankle high. But now it is up to my waist," she said.

Pongsairak runs a food store, which she said she refuses to close, frying chicken in waist-high water on an elevated stove.

Thailand's prime minister has urged all Bangkok residents to move their belongings to higher ground as government workers endeavor to contain the flooding.

Government spokeswoman Thitima Chaisaeng said the move was a precautionary measure.

To protect their cars, residents double parked along elevated highways, making it nearly impossible to navigate a city where traffic is congested on a normal day.

On Thursday, authorities expressed confidence that the main international airport, Suvarnabhumi Airport, was prepared to withstand the water's impact. Airport officials said a 3.5-meter-high flood prevention wall protects the airport.

Thailand derives a significant portion of its revenue from tourism.

CNN's Kocha Olarn and Karen Smith contributed to this report.

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