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Swollen Rivers, Surging Floodwaters Devastate Thailand’s Central Plains

October 14, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Next tonight, Southeast Asia underwater.

Monsoon season combined with typhoon season has wrought disaster throughout Asia, from Korea and Japan, south through the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, and now the latest target, Thailand.

WASAN LEEKMEG, Thailand (through translator): Right now, the situation is getting very bad. It’s getting worse and worse every day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Swollen rivers have devastated Thailand’s central plains. It’s the worst flooding there in a half-century.

PATHUMWAN CHOICHUICHAI, Thailand (through translator): I’m very scared. It’s never been like this. Everything is gone.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thirty of the country’s 77 provinces are flooded, affecting nearly nine million people. Rice crops have been ruined and industrial production has been halted in many regions, Toyota and Honda factories underwater. About 7 percent of their global production is based in Thailand.

And now the waters are surging toward the coast, with the low-lying riverside capital, Bangkok, and its nearly 10 million inhabitants directly in the path. They live along the Chao Phraya River that surges through the city. North of there, in Ayutthaya, the ancient Siamese capital, heavy rain has sent both man and beast in search of higher, or at least dryer, ground.

A herd of elephants, wards of a conservation group, were nearly stranded today. Adult elephants eat 400 pounds of food per day, and their handlers were having trouble getting provisions and clean water to the animals.

BANDIT KOBOON, elephant keeper (through translator): This is our fourth evacuation. Hopefully, we don’t have to move. However, what we need the most is food.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In the Sam Khok district on Bangkok’s outskirts, a local shopkeeper stacked sandbags, but the water still found its way in.

YUPIN MEUANSAENG, shopkeeper (through translator): I’m very stressed out. If I can’t sell anything, I won’t sell anything. I will close.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, in office only two months, insisted Bangkok will be spared, defended by a system of flood walls, dams and levees. But conflicting reports said water had breached key points, and with unusually high tides and yet more monsoon rain forecast, the city faced a desperate weekend.