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Thailand calls holiday to allow escape from floods

By Panarat Thepgumpanat,

BANGKOK — Thailand announced a five-day holiday Tuesday to give people the chance to escape floods closing in on Bangkok as the prime minister warned that the capital could be inundated with nearly five feet of water if barriers collapsed.

The cabinet declared Oct. 27 to 31 a holiday in Bangkok and 20 provinces affected by the country’s worst flooding in 50 years. Weekend high tides in the Gulf of Thailand could complicate efforts to divert water from the low-lying capital.

Financial markets will remain open.

As water levels climbed, some of those already evacuated were preparing to be evacuated again, with 4,000 people being sheltered at a northern Bangkok airport told that they would be moved to the eastern province of Chon Buri.

The floods have killed at least 366 people since mid-July and disrupted the lives of nearly 2.5 million, with more than 113,000 in shelters and 720,000 seeking medical attention.

Late Tuesday, Don Muang Airport, Bangkok’s second-biggest, closed because of concerns that passengers and staff members might have problems reaching the terminal. It is expected to reopen next week.

The airport authority said the main Suvarnabhumi Airport, built on a snake-infested swamp, was not affected because it is on higher ground.

Authorities were scrambling to pump out water around the east and west of the capital, but record-high water levels in the Chao Phraya River winding through the city raise the risk of floods in Bangkok’s commercial center when the high tides arrive.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra warned in a televised address that residents of central Bangkok should move their belongings to higher ground.

Seri Supharatid, director of Rangsit University’s Center on Climate Change and Disaster, said the city’s fate depended on dikes along the Chao Phraya.

“In the worst-case scenario, if all the dikes break, all parts of Bangkok would be more or less flooded,” Seri said.

The floods have also forced the closure of seven industrial estates in Ayutthaya, Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani provinces bordering Bangkok, causing billions of dollars in damage.

— Reuters

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