November 3, 2010 / 7:05 AM / 7 years ago

Thai south battles with floods, rubber industry hit

HAT YAI, Thailand (Reuters) - Transport and communications were severed and tourists stranded on Wednesday after southern Thailand’s worst flash floods in a decade forced flight cancellations and left a bustling city in deep water.

There were no reports of deaths or injuries but water levels in some areas were reported as high as three metres (10 feet), with swathes of the region’s commercial capital and rubber trade hub, Hat Yai, under water and residents stuck in their homes.

Airports at the tourist destinations Koh Samui and Krabi were closed for long periods and ferry services cancelled as the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation warned of more downpours, rising sea levels and strong currents.

The floods took their toll on the region’s important rubber industry, which accounts for 90 percent of Thailand’s output, disrupting tapping and delaying shipments of smoked rubber sheet totalling about 50,000 tonnes, dealers said.

The Hat Yai rubber market was open but there was no business as suppliers and traders were unable to transport rubber sheet to sell there. Thailand is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of rubber.

Hay Yai’s mayor on Tuesday estimated more than 100,000 people were stranded in their homes and rescue officials said severed transport routes and strong sea currents were preventing food and aid from reaching victims.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said help was on its way and expected water levels to recede.

“Help will start to trickle in today and should reach all by the end of today,” he told reporters.

The Finance Ministry says flooding this year, which has also hit northeastern and central provinces, could cut economic growth by 0.2 percentage point. It said on Wednesday it was confident growth would reach 7 percent, despite the severe weather.

Abhisit said he was confident 8 percent growth was still attainable.

“The Thai economy is stable with solid growth and sound fundamentals,” he said.

The estimated death toll from flooding since Oct. 10 across a third of the country is 107.

There were no updated reports of damage or casualties from the country’s south on Wednesday and medical officials were making efforts to move patients to other hospitals.

“Our main concern right now are patients with serious conditions. We are trying to find a way to evacuate them,” said Atchariya Pangma, a medical inspector from the Emergency Medical Institute.

The government agreed on Monday to give 5,000 baht ($168) to more than 600,000 families affected by the floods, more than 3.7 million people in total out of a population of 67 million.

Additional reporting by Ambika Ahuja, Pracha Hariraksapitak and Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat in Bangkok; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel

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