BANGKOK Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra pulled out of this weekend's summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Hawaii on Tuesday to concentrate on relief work at home as floodwater that has devastated her country threatened the capital, Bangkok.
Starting in the north and northeast of the country in late July, the water has flowed slowly south, overwhelming industrial provinces and rice areas in the centre before moving into Bangkok over the past three weeks.
The government says more than 500 people have been killed and 25 of the country's 77 provinces are currently affected.
"I think right now all Thais need to help each other. I have asked (Deputy Prime Minister) Kittirat Na Ranong to go (for the APEC summit) instead," Yingluck told reporters.
Leaders of 21 countries in the economically dynamic Asia-Pacific region meet in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Nov. 12-13 for the annual APEC summit.
Yingluck, whose management of the crisis has been widely criticised, called a news conference on Tuesday but unveiled little more than a number of committees that will look at short- and longer-term restoration work.
Later Yingluck was due to visit Ayutthaya province, the site of World Heritage-listed temples as well as five damaged industrial estates, where floodwater has started to recede after at least six weeks, allowing a clean-up to begin.
On Tuesday, workers were trying to divert water from northern Bangkok into the Bang Sue canal running west to the Chao Phraya river, but the main north-south Ratchadaphisek Road crossing over it was flooded in the area.
The water has inundated banks, shopping malls and court buildings in the vicinity.
"We can't fight the water. We can sell but no one's around to buy," said Songvarn Insartad, a food vendor by the canal.
Many people have left the city of 12 million, fleeing to places to the south that look safe from flooding, such as the seaside resort of Pattaya.
The Education Ministry has pushed back the new school term in Bangkok and surrounding areas for another week to Nov. 21 although Bangkok Metropolitan Area is sticking to Nov. 15 for the schools it controls. The term should have begun on Nov. 1.
The water is barely 7 km (4.5 miles) from the Silom business district and the Ratchaprasong intersection, whose swanky shopping malls and five-star hotels were closed for weeks by political protests in April-May last year.
Retail sales in the Ratchaprasong area, with more than 1,200 operators, have dropped 80 percent due to the flooding, Channel 3 television said.
Central World, Southeast Asia's second-biggest shopping complex, is defended by sandbags, aluminum barriers and water pumps. Its owner, Central Pattana Pcl, has already had to close three big shopping centres in Bangkok.
Two industrial parks in eastern Bangkok were still fighting to escape the fate of seven estates in central provinces that were inundated last month, causing huge disruption to global supply chains, especially in the car and electronics sectors.
Television showed water seeping into parts of the Bang Chan industrial estate on Tuesday but kept out of the 93 factories, including those of Nestle SA and President Bakery Pcl, which makes buns for McDonald's.
It was a similar picture at the Lat Krabang estate nearby, which has 254 factories. Consumer goods giant Unilever Pcl, Johnson & Johnson, Isuzu Motors and Honda Motor Co all have plants there.
It is about 10 km (6 miles) north of Bangkok's main Suvarnabhumi airport, which is functioning normally inside a reinforced dike at least 3 metres (10 feet) high.
($ = 30.70 baht)
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Orathai Sriring and Ploy Ten Kate; Editing by Sugita Katyal)