Bangkok: Rescue workers scrambled to reinforce make-shift walls and sand-bags around Bangkok on Saturday as the worst floods in half-a-century threatened Thailand`s low-lying capital after swamping entire villages in the north.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has sought to reassure Bangkok`s 12 million people they should largely escape floods that have covered a third of the country since July, killing at least 289 people and causing about USD 3 billion in damage.
The north, northeast and centre of Thailand have been worst hit and Bangkok -- much of it only two meters (6.5 ft) above sea level -- is at risk as water overflows from reservoirs in the north, swelling the Chao Phraya river that winds through the densely populated city.
Yingluck said water released from several dams should reduce the risk of floods as a wall of northern run-off water makes its way to Bangkok over the weekend, coinciding with high estuary tides that hamper the river`s flow into the sea.
She said the government was focused on releasing floodwater to the sea.
"We will protect strategic areas and the heart of the economy such as industrial zones, the central part of all provinces and Thai capital as well as Suvarnabhumi Airport, industrial estates and evacuation centres," she said, referring to Bangkok`s main international airport.
Despite official assurances, Bangkok residents have stocked up on bottled water and foodstuffs such as instant noodles. Many have parked their cars in elevated parking garages.
To protect the city, authorities reinforced its last defences -- a 4 km (2.5-mile) flood barrier along a canal and a sluice gate in Pathum Thani province immediately north of the city, where offices, shops and restaurants were submerged in chest-high water.
The city, known for its historic temples and raucous nightlife, is on edge amid bickering between the government and Bangkok`s Governor, who has urged people to listen to him, not the Prime Minister. The two are on either side of a political divide that sparked violent street protests last year.
Bangkok is the business heart of Thailand, accounting for 41 percent of its economy. In comparison, the central region, which has been badly flooded, accounts for 8 percent of the economy, Southeast Asia`s second-largest.
Parts of the central province of Ayutthaya, home to an ancient capital and historic temples, are nearly completely submerged, forcing at least three big industrial estates to shut temporarily.
Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co Ltd said on Friday its plant there, accounting for 4.7 percent of its global output, would stay closed until October 21.
Thailand is Southeast Asia`s biggest auto-manufacturing hub with most factories located in the east, which has been little affected by the flooding. But their operations could still suffer because car parts firms have been hit.