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Monday, August 18, 2008

Thousands Flee as Mekong Breaks Flood Records

A Cambodian woman swims with her cattle to higher ground. Photo: Reuters

Thousands Flee as Mekong Breaks Flood Records

TORRENTIAL rain and overflowing rivers have brought some of the worst flooding in decades to Vietnam and its neighbours in the past week, affecting cities and farmlands in five nations.

In northern Vietnam, at least 130 people have been killed, dozens are missing and thousands have been driven from their homes. Hundreds of tourists were evacuated near the hill tribe resort area of Sa Pa.

Flooding has also hit parts of Thailand, Cambodia and Laos as well as Burma, where waters rose in the Irrawaddy Delta, still recovering from a cyclone that left 138,000 people dead or missing in May.

The floods have hit much of Burma, including the main city, Rangoon, as well as Mandalay in the centre and the Karen and Mon states in the south-east.

In Vientiane, the capital of Laos, officials said the Mekong River had brought the worst flooding in memory, rising to nearly 15 metres 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.

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

Laotian Foreign Ministry spokesman Yong Chanthalansy said four people, including a child, had died in Vientiane after being injured in landslides triggered by the flooding.

Speaking by phone from Vientiane, Mr Yong said there were reports that the flooding was receding.

The flooding also cut electricity in Luang Prabang, a popular tourist destination.

In parts of north-eastern 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 had been caused by 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 were telling residents in some areas to move to higher ground with their livestock.

In the southern Mekong Delta of Vietnam, where the 4800-kilometre river flows into the sea, forecasters said rising waters had reached a critical level two weeks earlier than last year and that worse flooding lay ahead.

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

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