Destructive flooding puts Southeast Asia at risk

August 18, 2008 at 2:07 am Leave a comment

Sunday, August 17, 2008

HANOI: Torrential rains and overflowing rivers have brought some of the worst flooding in decades to Vietnam and its neighbors, flooding cities and farmlands in five nations.

At least 130 people were killed, dozens were missing and thousands were driven from their homes in northern Vietnam and hundreds of tourists were evacuated near the hill tribe resort area of Sapa.

Flooding has also hit parts of Thailand, Cambodia and Laos as well as Myanmar, where waters rose in the Irrawaddy Delta, which is still recovering from a cyclone that left 38,000 people dead or missing in May.

According to the official press in Myanmar, the floods affected much of the country, including the main city, Yangon, as well as Mandalay in the center and the Karen and Mon states in the southeast.

In Vientiane, the capital of Laos, officials said the Mekong River had brought the worst flooding in memory, rising to nearly 14 meters, or 45 feet, above its lowest level in the dry season. The high water in Vientiane broke a record set in 1966 and overflowed a levee that was built after that flood.

Mudslides also cut the main road from Vientiane to the ancient capital of Luang Prabang, a city of temples and monasteries where the Mekong waters also rose.

In parts of northeastern Thailand, officials said the Mekong had reached its highest level in 30 years, inundating farmlands and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people in three provinces along the river, which divides Thailand from Laos.

Officials said the high water was caused by heavy downpours in southern China, Laos and Thailand.

As the high waters of the Mekong moved downstream, Cambodia and eastern Thailand prepared for major floods and officials warned residents in some areas to move to higher ground along with their livestock.

In Vietnam’s southern Mekong delta, where the 4,345-kilometer, or 2,700-mile, river flows into the sea, forecasters said that rising waters had reached a critical level two weeks earlier than last year and that worse flooding lay ahead.

In northern Vietnam, the government said floodwaters peaked at close to their record levels of 1968. Military helicopters brought instant noodles and other supplies to stranded residents and airlifted hundreds of Vietamese and foreign tourists from Lao Cai, on the border with China.

Several hundred train passengers en route to the popular tourist area, including about 50 foreign tourists, took refuge in hotels before being airlifted out, according to the Vietnamese press.

In the neighboring province of Yen Bai, according to official reports, at least 35 people were killed, many of them buried under landslides that hit at night as they slept.

The government’s Central Steering Committee for Flood and Storm Control said in May that over the past three years, floods and storms had become stronger and more destructive. Last year’s floods were followed by a rare prolonged cold spell at the end of 2007. That was followed in turn by unexpected scorching weather and early storms in the first months of 2008, the committee said.

The most destructive flooding in recent years came in late 1999 in the country’s central provinces, leaving 750 people dead or missing.

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