Cambodia + 3 more

Indochina floods kill 43, make thousands homeless

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By Chor Sukonthea

LVEAR EM, Cambodia (Reuters) - Floodwaters along the lower stretches of the Mekong have wreaked havoc in Indochina, claiming at least 43 lives and leaving thousands homeless across the region, government and aid officials said on Friday.

Despite improved defences built after the disastrous floods of 2000 in which hundreds perished, heavy seasonal rains from China in the north to the Mekong delta in the south have ruined crops, homes and lives in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

"Over the last two weeks, it has been difficult. First, rice planting was damaged by drought, and a week later the rest of the rice has been destroyed by floods," Choung Sivvuth, governor of Cambodia's Prey Veng province, told Reuters.

The southeastern region was the last in Cambodia to suffer flooding, as waters flowed down from China and Laos, through the low-lying heartlands of Cambodia, and on to neighbouring Vietnam.

Officials and aid agencies have taken heart at a recent easing of river levels, but the death toll in Cambodia alone stands at 18. Most of the victims are children, swept away by the swollen torrents.

Across five provinces some 16,300 families -- around 120,000 people -- were in special evacuee centres on higher ground, according to government figures. With more rain and floods forecast, they could be homeless for some time.

"We have been worried by reports from Laos that they are expecting a surge in the floodwaters in the next two to three weeks," said Antony Spalton of the International Federation of the Red Cross.

"These people could be marooned for much longer than expected, and then we really are facing a question of food and health," Spalton said.

MORE RAIN, MORE FLOODS

Meanwhile in Vietnam, which suffered badly from floods two years ago, officials have warned that the torrential rains and flash floods of mid-August suggest a similar disaster could be around the corner.

At least 25 people have died so far in three central provinces as waters have submerged homes, crops and roads.

The monsoon rains which roll across the region from July to November have eased in recent days but flooding looks set to continue for some time as water from rains high up the Mekong in China gradually wends southwards.

Laos, so far the least affected country in Indochina, has recorded a higher rainfall than previous years, according to Agriculture and Forestry Minister Siene Saphangthong, quoted on state-run news agency KPL earlier this week.

The country's capital, Vientiane, has also seen floods, which KPA attributed to the southwestern monsoon and Tropical Storm Rusa moving south from Japan to Laos.

Vientiane has issued warnings to northern provinces to brace for further rains in coming weeks, but has not given estimates of damage or the number of people affected.

Meteorologists say Indochina's rainfall this year has not been exceptional, but towns and cities are more prone to flash floods because of deforestation and the construction of roads which have destroyed natural drainage patterns.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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