Thai floods recede in places, weeks of hardship ahead
BANGKOK (Reuters) - The center of Thailand's capital, Bangkok, looks like it will escape the flooding that has hit some suburbs and provinces to its north, but evacuation orders are still issued each day in outer districts and many residents face weeks of hardship.
The Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said Monday 562 people had died in the flooding since late July and that 22 of Thailand's 77 provinces were still affected.
Flooding is receding in parts of Bangkok but remains high on the west bank of the Chao Phraya river, swollen by high tides in the Gulf of Thailand, and to the east of the capital, where authorities have diverted run-off floodwater from the north to try to protect the heart of densely populated Bangkok.
Kawin Prachanukul, a 21-year-old student at Bangkok's Thammasat University, decided to stay with his dog in his home in Nong Kham district in the west of Bangkok, when it flooded in early November.
"My food supplies are starting to run out. Now I've just got some packs of instant noodles left. But it's not too bad for me -- at least I'm able to walk through the knee-deep water in my street to the main road, where there are a few food vendors," he said, adding that only a few men remained in his neighborhood.
Krissana Laongkaew, 54, had to leave her house in western Bangkok on November 2 with her husband and two sons after the floodwater rose to waist level.
She has also lost the traditional Thai massage shop nearby that she put all her life savings into.
"The shop had only been open for three months. We only finished decorating it in late October. Everything is gone," Krissana said, close to tears.
"It's very stressful for me ... My husband and I started everything from scratch and now we're back to zero," she said.
"I don't know how much I can salvage from the shop. The water came in so quickly and I had no real time to prepare. They told me the water would be knee-high. Initially, I planned to stay at my house, but the water just kept rising."
Many main roads remain closed in the western Thonburi area. A limited bus service operates on some routes but most people have to rely on army trucks or small boats, always packed.
In the parts of the capital that have remained dry, drinking water is back on shelves of supermarkets but still rationed in places. The overhead Skytrain and underground railway have stayed open throughout, even in flooded areas.
In one such area in the north of the city, Chatuchak, a big market popular with tourists was closed at the weekend but the floodwater had started to recede in some streets after almost two weeks, a Reuters reporter said.
Food vendors were back on the street and noodle shops and hair salons were opening for office workers. Businesses had started a big clean-up, sweeping water out of shops and clearing up rubbish that had floated for days in smelly brown water.
Authorities estimate that about 16,000 residents have taken shelter in 163 evacuation centres in Bangkok. Other people have had to rent accommodation or find refuge with relatives and friends in the north where the water has receded or in the south and southeast, untouched by floods.
For those who left, life is safer but not much fun.
Housewife Kim Sirindhorn fled her house in Nakhon Pathom province adjoining western Bangkok in late October for a seaside resort in the eastern province of Rayong, an area full of car plants and heavy industry teeming with evacuees from Bangkok.
The water in her area is still 64 cm (2 feet) high and she's been told it could take several weeks to go down.
"It's depressing and frustrating. We have nothing much to do and staying in one room is boring," she said.