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Thailand floods: Bangkok flood defenses are holding

Thailand's prime minister expressed cautious optimism Saturday that the flood threat to Bangkok may be receding. But flooding from high tides may still pose a problem for a city just six feet above sea level.

By Jason Szep and Apornrath PhoonphongphiphatReuters / October 29, 2011

A Thai rescues a dog in a flooded area in Bangkok, Thailand.

(AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

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Bangkok

Receding floodwaters north of Bangkok have reduced the threat to the Thai capital, the prime minister said on Saturday, but high tides in the Gulf of Thailand will still test the city's flood defenses.

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"If things go on like this, we expect floodwater in Bangkok to recede within the first week of November," Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said on national television.

Bangkok's main waterway, the Chao Phraya River, overflowed its banks in some areas on Saturday during high tides in the Gulf of Thailand, about 20 km (12 miles) to the south. The high tides will last until Monday.

The city's normally bustling Chinatown was flooded, as were the streets around the glittering Grand Palace and Temple of the Reclining Buddha, areas usually thronged with tourists.

Buildings across Bangkok have been sand-bagged or walled off for protection. Many people have left their cars on elevated roads, although most of the inner city is dry.

Many others have taken advantage of a special five-day holiday to flee the city. Those left behind have stocked up on water, food, life jackets and even boats.

Thailand's worst floods in half a century have killed 381 people since July, wiped out a quarter of the main rice crop in the world's biggest rice exporter, forced up global prices of computer hard drives and caused delays in global auto production after destroying industrial estates.

The death toll rose overnight when a boat carrying a family of four capsized in strong wind, drowning the father, mother and eldest son in three-meter (10 feet) floodwater. Their 6-year-old daughter, the only one wearing a life vest, survived.

In Bangkok, which was sunny on Saturday, prices of eggs have quadrupled as jittery residents stockpile staples. Many shop shelves are empty but the government said flood victims would have enough bottled water, dairy products, pork and chicken.

Cash was also in heavy demand. The Bank of Thailand has repeated that there is enough money circulating to meet demand for three months following a crush of withdrawals. Nearly 400 bank branches have closed across the country due to the floods.

The floods, which followed unusually heavy monsoon rain, have submerged 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) of land, an area roughly the size of Kuwait or Swaziland, turning some towns into urban reservoirs.

In some areas, crocodiles have escaped from flooded farms and snakes searching for dry land have slithered into homes.

Yingluck said the ebbing flood in northern provinces, thanks to the draining of water into the sea through canals and pumps, had reduced the risk of large volumes bearing down on Bangkok, which sits only two meters (6 ft) above sea level.

"In this critical situation, there is some good news for us. Our water-management plan went smoothly during previous days," she said, offering the city the first encouraging words in days.

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