NEW DELHI – Thailand, reeling from its worst flooding in decades, received more bad news Saturday as the death toll from three months of downpours rose to 356 and the prime minister warned that the inundation could last six more weeks.
In a high-risk maneuver this weekend, authorities are trying to channel floodwaters through the canals of Bangkok and out to sea from the deluged central plains. The capital has already seen waist-high water in its northern neighborhoods, with many fearing that the heart of downtown could be next if the diversion fails.
“Bangkok must open all floodgates to allow the water through,” Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said in a nationwide radio address. “There is a huge volume of runoff water from the north and we can’t effectively block it, but can only slow the flow.”
The government raised the death toll to 356 from Friday’s 342. Two others are missing. An estimated 113,000 people have been displaced. And the nation has suffered $3.3 billion in economic damage, a figure that could double if Bangkok is swamped.
Yingluck, who’s been in office just two months, invoked a disaster law Friday to exert more control over squabbling ministries and contradictory information. She also warned Bangkok residents to move their belongings to higher floors and brace for water levels that could reach 3 feet.
Flooding has affected nearly half of the country’s 77 provinces in the last three months, taking a huge toll on the economy. Thailand is the world’s top rice and rubber producer and a major disk-drive manufacturer; the disaster is sending jitters through the global computer industry in advance of the Christmas shopping season.