Bridges collapse, severing overland routes to flood-hit Thai south

A bridge damaged by floods in Chai Buri District in Surat Thani province. The main road heading down Thailand's southern neck was closed after two bridges collapsed in Prachuab Kiri Khan province.
A bridge damaged by floods in Chai Buri District in Surat Thani province. The main road heading down Thailand's southern neck was closed after two bridges collapsed in Prachuab Kiri Khan province.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK • Overland routes to Thailand's flood-hit south were cut yesterday after two bridges collapsed following days of torrential rain that has killed at least 30 people, including a five-year-old girl.

The collapse of one bridge on the country's main north-south highway backed up traffic for 200km, local media reported.

More than 360,000 households, or about a million people, have been affected by the floods that have damaged homes and schools, and affected rubber and palm oil production, the Department of Disaster Prevention and industry officials said.

The unseasonal downpours this month have also put a dampener on Thailand's peak tourist season, prompting cancellations on popular resort islands including Samui and Phangan. But Singapore's major travel agencies said yesterday that the flooding had no impact on their tours to Thailand.

The Thai Highways Department said the main road heading down Thailand's southern neck was closed after the two bridges collapsed in Prachuab Kiri Khan province.

Trains south have also been halted by the rising floodwaters, increasing demand on already stretched flights to and from the flood-ravaged region.

The death toll has crept up in recent days as floods have reached roof-top level in some areas.

A five-year-old girl became the latest victim when a flash flood hit a van she was travelling in late on Monday in Prachuab Kiri Khan province.

"Her family climbed to the roof of the van to avoid the water, but she fell in with her mother," relief worker Rawiroj Thammee said.

"The girl was swept away... villagers found her body 200m from the van" yesterday morning.

January usually sees visitors flocking to southern Thailand's pristine beaches as monsoon rains abate and temperatures ease. But the region has been battered by what the Thai junta describes as the heaviest January rainfall in 30 years.

In flood-hit areas of Surat Thani province, a tourist gateway to the party islands of Samui and Phangan, villagers said a week of rain had brought an unprecedented deluge.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan- o-cha said yesterday that residents should have heeded evacuation warnings issued ahead of the floods.

"Many people do not want to leave, they want to stay home," he said, adding that their reluctance was making the relief effort more pressing.

Mr Prayut, who also heads the ruling junta, said unbridled growth of towns and cities without planning for drainage was making Thailand increasingly vulnerable to floods.

Television images have shown villagers wading through muddy water in remote flooded hamlets, with a few salvaged belongings held above their heads.

Soldiers have been deployed to provide relief packages and rescue stranded people in the worst-hit areas.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2017, with the headline 'Bridges collapse, severing overland routes to flood-hit Thai south'. Print Edition | Subscribe