Bangkok: Thailand`s catastrophic floods may take up to six weeks to recede, the Prime Minister said on Saturday, as the human toll from the crisis rose to 356 dead and more than 110,000 displaced.
Excessive monsoon rains have drowned a third of the Southeast Asian nation since late July, causing billions of dollars in damage and putting nearly 700,000 people temporarily out of work.
Colossal pools of runoff from the north have been bearing down on the capital for the last two weeks. In recent days, water has overwhelmed districts just outside Bangkok`s northern boundaries, while on Friday, floodwaters began spilling over canals in some of the city`s outermost districts, causing minor damage to homes.
Some flooding on Bangkok`s outskirts was expected after Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra ordered floodgates opened in a risky move to drain the dangerous runoff through urban canals and into the sea. So far, most of the vast metropolis of nine million people has escaped unharmed, and its two airports are operating normally.
In a weekly radio address on Saturday, Yingluck said that "during the next four to six weeks, the water will recede."
In the meantime, the government will step up aid to those whose lives have been disrupted, including 113,000 people Yingluck said were living in temporary shelters forced to abandon submerged homes.
The government said at least 356 people had died in the floods since July.
The floods are the worst to hit the country since 1942, and the crisis is proving a major test for Yingluck`s nascent government, which took power in July after heated elections.
The Labour Ministry says the flooding has put nearly 700,000 temporarily people out of work, many of them from five major industrial estates north of Bangkok that were forced to suspend operations. Among those affected are Japanese carmakers Toyota and Honda, which have halted major assembly operations, and a slew of automotive parts makers.
The electronics industry has also suffered, with the best-known victim being US hard drive maker Western Digital, which has two major production facilities in the flooded zone.
While Bangkok has mostly survived unscathed, images of disaster just outside the city have spooked residents, who are girding for the worst after Yingluck urged all Bangkokians to move valuables to higher ground.
Thousands of cars are parked alongside elevated highways as drivers try to safeguard their vehicles. And some supply lines are being affected; one Thai company that delivers drinking water to city residents and businesses sent out an SMS to customers announcing its services had been halted because of the crisis.
"The flooding this time is a critical problem," Yingluck said. "We need cooperation and sacrifice from everyone."
To fight the crisis, Yingluck on Friday invoked her powers under a disaster law that give her overriding authority over all other official bodies, including local governments. The move should allow better coordination with the municipal authorities in Bangkok and helps project Yingluck as a take-charge leader, after weeks of seeming indecision and confusion.