Death Toll in Southern Thailand Floods Climbs to 51

Published November 27th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Thailand began to count the cost Monday of devastating floods in the country's south that have left at least 51 dead, caused havoc in the city of Hat Yai and destroyed swathes of farmland. 

The Civil Defense Department said the official death toll had risen by 11 overnight to 51, but newspaper reports put the number killed as high as 80, saying most had drowned or been electrocuted. 

The Bangkok Post said 700,000 head of livstock had perished and many fish and prawn farms were destroyed in the deluge that swamped the region over the past week. 

Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai toured the worst-hit province of Sonkhla over the weekend, where waters were beginning to recede despite another heavy downpour Sunday evening. 

In the major southern city of Hat Yai, residents were beginning to emerge from their homes to inspect the damage. 

Food supplies there were still short and drinking water, food and medicine were being shuttled in by plane, boat and helicopter. 

The health ministry said it was now working to prevent outbreaks of disease by flying in 30 mobile teams to help people suffering flood-related health problems. 

"About 7,000 people have been coming in for treatment each day," said spokeswoman Nitaya Mahapol, adding most had been injured as they clambered around in the murky flood waters in search of food. 

Medical teams had flown in with 1,000 doses of tetanus vaccine and 500 vials of snake serum to protect against the reptiles which have become a hazard as they search for dry ground. 

"The ministry also plans to prevent disease by destroying garbage and handing out testing kits for food and water," she said. 

Sonkhla governor Sawas Klaewthanong said utilities workers were trying to restore running water by cleaning out the clogged water system. 

"I think everything should return to normal within six months," Hat Yai Mayor Kreng Suwannawong told the Nation daily. 

As the waters subsided Monday, the streets of the city were packed with residents keen to replenish their cupboards after being trapped in their homes for up to five days without electricity supplies. 

Bulldozers roamed the streets, scraping up a thick layer of rotting debris from the gutters and dumping the mess into trucks.  

Questions also began to be asked Monday over whether the floods -- the worst in more than a decade -- could have been avoided. 

"Mother Nature may be responsible for the deluge (but) we humans are as much to blame -- it is our work that has exacerbated the flooding," the Bangkok Post said in an editorial. 

Illegal logging and the encroachment of farmland had stripped the region of its forest cover and destroyed the natural mechanism for absorbing excess rainwater, it said. 

Poor town planning and infrastructure projects including highways and buildings which blocked natural run-offs were also to blame, it said. 

The editorial urged nationwide action to prevent "a repeat of the catastrophe" -- BANGKOK (AFP)  



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