BANGKOK: Rescuers in north-eastern Thailand waded through fast-flowing floods to rescue dozens of people stranded in their homes on Wednesday (Sep 29), as authorities tried to drain away waters and get more help to victims.
At least seven people have died and two are missing as floods over the last week have affected almost 200,000 households in 30 provinces in the lower north and north-eastern Thailand.
Rescuers wearing orange helmets and lifejackets travelled by boats through submerged streets in the northeastern province of Chaiyaphum to reach people stuck on the roofs of their homes.
Video posted on social media by the Hook 31 private rescue team showed them wading carefully against a current of brown water as high as the windows of abandoned cars, some carrying children on their backs and escorting the elderly along a series of guide ropes.
Authorities have issued warnings over the rising water level of the Chaophraya river that could bring flooding to the capital Bangkok and surrounding areas.
The government has reassured the public that the situation is manageable and there will be no repeat of the devastating months-long flooding of 2011, which killed hundreds of people, damaged vast swathes of farmland and paralysed Bangkok and its industrial belt.
The Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigations said on Wednesday that 197,795 households in 30 provinces, mostly in the north, northeast and central regions had been affected, a 56 per cent increase over the 126,781 reported a day earlier.
Heavy rains are still forecast for many areas.
The immediate threat triggering warnings to Bangkok and the provinces of Lopburi, Saraburi, Ayutthaya, Pathum Thani and Nonthaburi comes from water that has flowed down the Chao Phraya River from the north, in such quantities that it overwhelmed the capacity of dams and reservoirs to retain it.
The dilemma facing planners is that the dams and reservoirs are used to store as much water as possible to help with irrigation during perennial droughts, but have to be able to cope with the unpredictable overflow during the rainy season.
Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang acknowledged on his Facebook page on Wednesday that because the capital is on low-lying ground, it is vulnerable to flooding from the Chao Phraya, and cannot be drained quickly. Parts of the city were inundated in a major 2011 flood, fed primarily by water released from reservoirs in the north.
The governor listed measures the city is taking to cope with flooding, including preparing water pumps that connect to a large drainage tunnel.
While large dams and reservoirs in the north have so far been able to cope with this year’s rainfall, others closer to Bangkok have approached or exceeded their capacity this month and have had to discharge water.
The most recent flood warnings follow decisions to increase the discharge of water from the Chao Phraya Dam, 190km north of Bangkok, and the Pasak Jolasid Dam, about 100km north of the capital.