Thailand's flood defences under strain again

BANGKOK, Sept 12 Wed Sep 12, 2012 5:30am EDT

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BANGKOK, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Up to a quarter of Thailand's provinces, including the tourist resort of Ayutthaya, have been inundated by floodwaters amid concerns the government failed to act fast enough to strengthen flood defences after last year's devastating floods.

Thousands have fled their homes in Northern Thailand after heavy rain caused a major river to overflow at the start of the month, sending up to a metre of water into some towns. So far, four people have died.

Scenes of residents wading through waist-high water and stacking large sandbags around shops and homes in Sukhothai, about 430 km (265 miles) north of the capital Bangkok, are a stark reminder of last year's floods that killed more than 800 people.

Thailand registered just 0.1 percent annual growth in 2011, largely as a result of the floods which swept down into Bangkok.

Although the latest flooding is not as bad as a year ago, another disaster could deal a blow to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's Puea Thai government which came under fire for mismanaging the 2011 crisis.

Industrial estates have scrambled to build flood walls and dredge nearby canals in time for this year's rainy season, but other parts of the country remain vulnerable to sudden inundation.

"Barriers designed to prevent the Yom river from overflowing were in need of repair but this wasn't done after last year's floods," Plodprasop Suraswadi, Thailand's Water and Flood Management Commission, told local radio on Wednesday referring to a main river in the north.

Flood defences at seven key industrial zones were badly hit in 2011, crippling Thailand's electronics and auto sectors and crushing foreign investor confidence.

"Japanese companies are satisfied with the earth flood barriers we built this year and we're ready if water reaches us," said Somnuk Sansomboonsuk, director and project manager of Hi-Tech Industrial Estate, 60 km (40 miles) from Bangkok. ($1 = 31.0900 Thai baht) (Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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