News / Asia

Record Mekong Flooding Threatens Bangkok, Phnom Penh

Thai soldiers pile up sandbags to make a flood barrier in Pathumthani province, central Thailand, Oct. 11, 2011.
Thai soldiers pile up sandbags to make a flood barrier in Pathumthani province, central Thailand, Oct. 11, 2011.

United Nations officials say the capitals of Thailand and Cambodia are at risk as the worst flooding in modern times sweeps through the Mekong Basin.

Kirsten Mildren, spokeswoman for the U.N.'s humanitarian affairs agency, told VOA Tuesday that officials in Bangkok are taking urgent measures as the floodwaters bear down on the city.

"We know that there is a lot of water coming down," she said. "The government at the moment is building canals around the city. There are sand bags going up everywhere. They are doing what they can to actually stop the water coming through, but each day it seems to come closer and closer."

Mildren said the waters are also continuing to rise in Cambodia, where Phnom Penh is threatened. Across the country 183 people have died since August and almost 100,000 hectares of paddy are damaged or destroyed.

Regionwide, she said at least 500 people are dead and millions are affected in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

"You’ve got, you know, 2.5 million people that are affected, and they are probably affected because flood water has gone through their villages, its gone through their rice paddies, schools are closed, so most people are actually displaced, they are in evacuation centers, they are staying with family and friends out of the water."

In the northern Thailand city of Ayutthaya, resident Pathumwan Choichuichai told an Associated Press television crew he is very scared.

"It's never been like this. There's nothing left, no house, no belongings, including clothes, bed and refrigerator and appliances.  Everything is gone," he said.  He has lost his home, his clothes and everything he owns in the flooding.

Mildren says the flooding is the result of an unusual combination of weather events, beginning with a series of typhoons that swept northwestward from the Philippines.

"We’ve had four back-to-back typhoons that went through Philippines, and then that brought along heavy rain which, on top of that, the usual monsoon rain, basically has flooded the Mekong Basin. And that’s brought a whole lot of water all the way down to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. And this is why you see what is being called, you know, some of the worst flooding on record in modern times."

Her agency puts the death toll at 269 in Thailand, 183 in Cambodia, 30 in Laos and 18 in Vietnam, including 16 children.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.

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