Thai soldiers race to help flooded southern city

Power and cell phone coverage was wiped out in several areas and trains to the city were canceled in southern commercial hub of Hat Yai.

Thailand flooding (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Thailand flooding
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
BANGKOK — Thailand rushed soldiers and its only aircraft carrier to rescue residents in a key southern city submerged by the latest flooding that peaked as high as rooftops, after 107 people died from deluges in the northeast last month.
The southern commercial hub of Hat Yai was transformed into a murky waterway with roads completely inaccessible by cars. Power and cell phone coverage was wiped out in several areas and trains to the city were canceled.
Floodwaters rose to rooftops in some areas of Hat Yai on Tuesday, but the water had receded by half on Wednesday to about 4 feet (just over 1 meter), said Vijit Thammasaro from the province's disaster prevention office.
A tropical depression that dumped constant rain on the area Sunday and Monday triggered the flooding, which forced the closure Tuesday of the airport on Samui island, a popular tourist getaway in the Gulf of Thailand. Thai Airways said it was resuming flights Wednesday afternoon to Samui.
Thailand's meteorological department said the storm was moving west, away from Thailand, but warned of 13-foot (4-meter) waves in some coastal areas and the possibility of landslides and flash floods for residents in low-lying areas.
"I'm confident the situation has started to resolve," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Wednesday, a day after calling the flooding "one of the worst natural calamities" to hit the country.
Thailand's only aircraft carrier, which rarely leaves its berth, was deployed to help out and reached the coastal waters off Hat Yai by midday Wednesday. It carried helicopters, marine amphibious landing craft and thousands of meals to distribute to residents.
Abhisit said that relief efforts had been complicated by rapid currents in flooded areas that prevented the use of regular motorboats, but boats with bigger engines had been mobilized to reach the troubled areas.
Initial reports Tuesday said as many as 100,000 people were trapped by the high water in Hat Yai, but when asked about it Wednesday, Abhisit said: "It's unlikely, but there remain several areas we haven't been able to access."
Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said the army, navy and air force had deployed thousands of soldiers for the rescue effort.
The Education Ministry said that more than 1,100 schools in the south were closed this week by the floods, delaying the start of the new semester.
The deluge in Thailand's south — along a peninsula it shares with Malaysia — follows two weeks of heavy floods in October, mostly in central and northeastern Thailand, that killed 107 people. Nearly 6 million residents of 38 provinces were affected by October's floods, according to the government's Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department.
Abhisit said earlier that the floods were caused by heavy rains that dumped larger-than-normal amounts of water into dams and reservoirs and aggressive housing and business development that has affected natural drainage channels.