March 30, 2011 / 9:27 AM / 9 years ago

Flooding in Thailand kills 21, strands thousands

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Severe flooding and mudslides in southern Thailand have killed 21 people, stranded thousands of tourists and threatened to delay shipments of rubber in the world’s largest rubber-producing country, authorities said on Wednesday.

Tourists are evacuated with the help of the Thai Navy from Koh Tao Island after heavy storms in Surat Thani, south of Bangkok March 30, 2011.Severe flooding and mudslides in southern Thailand have killed 21 people, stranded thousands of tourists and threatened to delay shipments of rubber in the world's largest rubber-producing country, authorities said on Wednesday. Thailand's navy sent four vessels including an amphibious landing craft with on-board helicopters to the rubber-rich region to deliver supplies and rescue tourists and villagers in areas severely hit. REUTERS/Stringer

Trains to the region have been canceled and three airports have been shut, including one on the popular island of Koh Samui. As well as Koh Samui, foreign tourists have also been stuck at resorts in Krabi and Koh Phangan.

The Thai navy evacuated about 1,200 people from Koh Samui and Koh Tao, a remote island popular with backpackers.

Thailand’s navy sent four vessels including an amphibious landing craft with on-board helicopters to deliver supplies and rescue tourists and villagers in areas severely hit.

“More rain is expected in the next few days,” Satit Wongnongtoey, a minister in the prime minister’s office, told Reuters.

British ambassador Asif Ahmad said Britain was in close contact with the Thai navy on the evacuation of tourists from the region.

The flooding could delay shipments of between 1,000 and 1,500 tonnes of smoked rubber sheet, industry officials said. The region supplies 90 percent of the 3.2 million tonnes produced annually in Thailand, the world’s biggest producer and exporter.

“Small producers along the upper south, who need to carry rubber by road to be shipped from Bangkok’s port are facing disruption as roads are cut off,” Prapas Uernontat, secretary general of the Thai Rubber Association, told Reuters.

Nearly a million people have been affected by unseasonably heavy downpours across the region.

Mudslides were reported in three areas in Krabi province. At least 10 people were killed in one village, with at least 10 others missing.

Wiboon Sangruanpong, director-general of the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, said it was too soon to assess full damage and said more mudslides were possible.

Along with the airport on Koh Samui, the Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani airports have also been shut.

Additional reporting by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat; Editing by Martin Petty and Jeremy Laurence

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