Thailand vows Bangkok safe as huge floods advance -

Thailand vows Bangkok safe as huge floods advance

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- The Thai government vowed Friday that Bangkok's defenses will protect it from the worst flood waters in decades, which have devastated large swathes of the country and are now surging toward the capital.
Some outlying parts of the city could be hit by flood waters this weekend, but most of the capital would be spared by flood walls, said the head of the government's Flood Relief Center, Justice Minister Pracha Promnok.
Three main water barricades north, east and west of Bangkok are "efficiently protecting" the city from being inundated, Pracha said at a news conference.
Bangkok's emergency irrigation system has the capacity to drain off about 550 million cubic meters of water per day, far more than the 100 million cubic meters per day that is flowing toward the city.
"Therefore Bangkok is safe," Pracha said.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority agreed with that assessment.
Deputy Bangkok Governor Pornthep Techapaiboon said city residents should remain calm, and that there was no need to hoard food.
"The Chao Phraya River water level on Saturday will be lower than the barriers. However, water might be able to slightly flow over or leak over the barricades in some parts," Pornthep said. "But about 5,000 officials are ready to be dispatched to the vulnerable areas to fix it, so Bangkok residents should not be worried."
Frenzied preparations have been under way in the last few days as fears intensified that flood waters rushing from the north will combine with rains and high tides in the next few days to deluge the city. Government reassurances Friday did not slow down efforts to prepare for the worst.
In Rangsit district just north of Bangkok, thousands of sandbags were being filled to fortify a flood barrier constructed along a canal that snakes through a residential area. Hundreds of volunteers joined military personnel in filling empty rice bags with sand and dirt and then stacking them along the water's edge.
"Right now, we're building up these barriers to try to contain the water as much as we can," said Troy Pannavaj, a 32-year-old volunteer. "Currently it is coursing by about one foot under the top of the sandbag wall."
Erroneous reports Thursday said that flood waters had broken through the gate, leading the government to order residents to urgently evacuate. The Flood Relief Center later apologized for the "misinformation," saying the evacuation order had been reversed and that damage to the gate had been overestimated.
Emergency crews raced to repair a key barrier protecting Bangkok from approaching waters Friday, part of a desperate bid to defend the Thai capital from the country's worst floods in decades.
Repair work to the Khlong Ban Phrao Floodgate was being expedited and area residents were asked to remain on alert for flooding. Gov. Peerasak Hinmuangkao of Pathum Thani province, just north of Bangkok, said the gate would be repaired by the end of the day.
At least 283 people have been killed in Thailand since late July by floods and mudslides that have devastated rice crops and shut dozens of factories.
Bangkok has been mostly spared so far, but some surrounding areas have been inundated. Buildings in many areas of the capital have stockpiled sandbags, while others have built protective walls from cement and cinderblocks.
Government spokesman Wim Rungwattanajinda said the main canals east and west of Bangkok will be dredged by Friday to allow more water to flow from flooded northern provinces. He said authorities are also digging canal shortcuts to help drive water to the sea.
"This is the best method at the moment" to protect Bangkok, Wim told The Associated Press. "We are all working against time."
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the operations will allow the water to exit through three major rivers instead of just one -- the Chao Phraya River that flows through Bangkok -- as the government initially planned, and will therefore relieve the impact on the capital.
Some 8.2 million people in 61 out of the country's 77 provinces have been affected by the flooding, which has also halted production at many major factories north of Bangkok. Nervous residents have been stocking up on bottled water, rice, instant noodles, medicine and other essentials.

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