Thailand fought to hold back floodwaters flowing towards Bangkok Saturday as a spring tide hindered efforts to protect the city of 12 million people from the kingdom's worst inundation in decades.
The authorities appeared to be winning the battle, with no reports of major flooding in inner Bangkok, which is ringed by flood walls, leaving areas outside the main city to bear the brunt of the rising waters.
"We must try to protect our economic zone including Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi Airport, industrial areas and evacuation centres," said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Sandbags have been piled alongside rivers and canals and the authorities have been racing to repair a dyke that burst on Thursday, causing a brief scare in suburbs in the north of the capital. The floods, several metres deep in places, are currently affecting about one third of Thailand's provinces and have damaged the homes or livelihoods of millions of people and left at least 297 people dead.
About 110,000 people around the country have sought refuge in shelters in the face of waters that have destroyed crops and inundated hundreds of factories in industrial parks north of Bangkok.
"People have been affected by floods for three months now. The government understands that and is trying to drain the water as soon as possible," Yingluck said.
"This incident is one of Thailand's biggest and most severe losses in history. The government will not forget the people's grievances." She said foreign governments including China, Japan and the United States were giving financial or logistical support for the relief operations. Conditions in inner Bangkok and at most of Thailand's top tourist destinations are mostly normal and Suvarnabhumi Airport -- the capital's main international gateway, which has flood walls several metres high -- is operating as usual.
This weekend Bangkok is bracing for a large amount of run-off water along with seasonal high tides that will make it harder for the flood waters to flow out to sea.
"We predict the water will be highest from October 16-18 as the high sea level combines with water from the north which will arrive in Bangkok tomorrow (Sunday)," said Worapat Tianprasit at the Royal Irrigation Department. He said the water in the Chao Phraya River had risen to 2.27 metres above sea level on Saturday morning at high tide, which was lower than expected.
"If the tide does not exceed 2.5 metres, there won't be flooding," Worapat added.
Overnight thunderstorms caused some minor flooding on roads in the centre of the capital, but the authorities have said they are confident they can prevent serious inundation in the low-lying city. "Bangkok will definitely not be affected by floods," Justice Minister Pracha Promnog, who heads the government's flood relief centre, said Friday.
Sandbags have been piled in front of homes and businesses in preparation for possible inundation, and some residents have chosen to their vehicles in multi-storey carparks while stocking up on food, water and flashlights. The authorities have been dredging and draining canals to allow more water to flow through and are diverting water to areas outside the main city. The floods have dealt a heavy blow to Thailand's economy, disrupting production of cars, electronics and other goods.
Japanese automakers including Toyota have suspended production in the kingdom due to water damage to facilities or a shortage of components.
Three workers at a flood-hit factory north of the capital suffered minor injuries that were believed to be caused by a short circuit.