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July 27, 2017

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Thailand orders holiday amid flooding

BANGKOK -- Thailand announced a five-day holiday on Tuesday to give people the chance to escape floods closing in on Bangkok as authorities ordered the evacuation of a housing estate on the outskirts of the city after a protective wall gave way.

The cabinet declared Oct. 27-31 a holiday in Bangkok and 20 provinces affected by the country's worst flooding in 50 years as weekend high tides in the Gulf of Thailand could complicate efforts to divert water from the low-lying capital.

Financial markets will remain open.

As water levels climbed, some of those already evacuated were preparing to be evacuated again, with 4,000 people sheltering at a northern Bangkok airport told they would be moved to the eastern province of Chon Buri.

The floods have killed at least 366 people since mid-July and disrupted the lives of nearly 2.5 million, with more than 113,000 in shelters and 720,000 seeking medical attention.

Authorities are scrambling to pump out water around the east and west of Bangkok but record-high water levels in the Chao Phraya river that winds through the city raise the risk of floods in the commercial heart when the tide rises.

"It's still hard to say whether the water will swell over the Chao Phraya dyke but the situation is changing all the time. Things we didn't think would happen have happened," said Seri Supharatid, director of Rangsit University's Centre on Climate Change and Disaster.

"In the worst-case scenario, if all the dykes break, all parts of Bangkok would be more or less flooded."

The floods have also forced the closure of seven industrial estates in Ayutthaya, Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani provinces bordering Bangkok, causing billions of dollars of damage, disrupting supply chains for industry and putting about 650,000 people temporarily out of work.

The cabinet announced a 325 billion baht (US$10.6 billion) budget on Tuesday to help rebuild the country, mostly for small- and medium-sized enterprises, small vendors and individuals.

"If they get back to normal quickly, it will help push the economy forward," said Finance Minister Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala.

Thirachai last week said growth for this year could be barely 2 percent due to the flooding, down from the central bank's earlier forecast of 4.1 percent.

Heavy rain late on Tuesday, the first in four days, could complicate an already precarious situation and more showers were forecast for Wednesday.

Don Muang Airport, Bangkok's second biggest, closed late on Tuesday due to concerns that passengers and staff might have problems reaching the terminal. It is expected to reopen on Nov. 1.

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