Floodwaters that submerged a key southern Thai city, making it completely inaccessible by road, began to recede late Wednesday, as relief workers continued to ferry aid to areas where water sometimes rose up to rooftops.
Soldiers and Thailand’s only aircraft carrier had earlier been sent to help victims of what Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had called “one of the worst natural calamities” the country has seen.
Eight southern provinces were affected by severe flooding, but the damage was most visible in the commercial hub of Hat Yai, a large city where the road system was transformed into a murky waterway completely inaccessible by cars. Power and cell phone coverage was wiped out in several areas and trains to the city were canceled.
By late Wednesday, however, the waters had receded, leaving only 10 percent of the city flooded, Danaivit Saibandith, the head of Songkhla province irrigation office, told The Associated Press.
“Water started to recede quickly during the day,” he said. “It was still high this morning, but now the main roads in Hat Yai are dry and accessible by cars.”
Danaivit said the highest water level Wednesday evening was around a foot (30 centimeters) high, falling from its peak of 10 feet (three meters) two days ago.
A tropical depression that dumped constant rain on the area Sunday and Monday triggered the flooding, which forced the closure Tuesday of the airport on Samui island, a popular tourist getaway in the Gulf of Thailand. The small airport reopened Wednesday, with both Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways resuming flights.
Thailand’s meteorological department said the storm was moving west, away from Thailand, but warned of 13-foot (four-meter) waves in some coastal areas and the possibility of landslides and flash floods for residents in low-lying areas.
While property damage from the disaster seemed massive, the number of fatalities appears to have been minimal, even though no official casualty toll has been released. The Nation TV cable channel reported that the body of a district official in Songkhla province who disappeared Monday during a flood relief mission was recovered Wednesday,
“I’m confident the situation has started to resolve itself,” Prime Minister Abhisit said Wednesday. Asked about reports that as many as 100,000 people had been trapped by the flooding in Hat Yai, he said, “It’s unlikely, but there remain several areas we haven’t been able to access.”
Abhisit said that relief efforts had been complicated by rapid currents in flooded areas that prevented the use of regular motorboats. Instead, boats with bigger engines were mobilized to reach the troubled areas.
Thailand’s only aircraft carrier, which rarely leaves its berth, was deployed to help out and reached the coastal waters off Hat Yai by midday Wednesday. It carried helicopters, marine amphibious landing craft and thousands of meals to distribute to residents.
Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said the army, navy and air force had deployed thousands of personnel for the rescue effort.
The Education Ministry said that more than 1,100 schools in the south were closed this week by the floods, delaying the start of the new semester.
The deluge in Thailand’s south — along a peninsula it shares with Malaysia — followed two weeks of heavy floods in October, mostly in central and northeastern Thailand, that killed 107 people. Nearly 6 million residents of 38 provinces were affected by October’s floods, according to the government’s Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department.