Flood-Stranded Tourists Escape Via Helicopter

Flash flooding forced the evacuation by helicopters and boats of more than 200 tourists and nearly 100 families from the area surrounding the Angkor Archeolo­gical Park’s Banteay Srei temple in Siem Reap province yesterday.

Officials also warned that flooding is expected in many parts of the country as the Mekong, Tonle Sap and other rivers breach their banks as water levels continue to rise.

Four helicopters and four boats ferried tourists and locals to dry ground after they were stranded by floodwater caused by heavy rains on Wednesday night, said Phath Saran, Banteay Srei district council chief.

“We are rescuing the people. Some people escaped to the roofs of houses and up trees,” Mr Saran said, noting that a search for others was under way. “We don’t know how many people still remain” in the affected area.

Floodwaters reached a height of one meter in the Banteay Srei temple and district offices, while four villages in two communes were also inundated, he said.

Areas along the Mekong River are bracing for a new round of flooding, as the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology warned that this year’s floods would be the worst in over a decade.

The Mekong River is rising to levels not seen since the huge floods of 2000, said Lim Kean Hor, Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology.

“We would like to appeal to all people to pay high attention in order to avoid losing any lives,” Mr Kean Hor said.

In Kratie province, Mekong will today rise to 22.78 meters, which will surpass the river’s level in 2000, he said. In two days time, Stung Treng province will be only 0.19 meters shy of the 2000 level, while river levels are also rising alarmingly in Kompong Cham, Kandal, Prey Veng and Phnom Penh, he said.

River levels will continue to rise as water flows down the Mekong River from flood-stricken Laos, Mr Kean Hor said, adding that more heavy rain is expected in coming days. Heavy rains from today until Monday will cause flooding in coastal, highland and mountainous areas.

Flooding has already hit Kratie province, forcing more than 100 families to evacuate to higher ground and swamping 3,000 hectares of paddy fields, provincial Governor Kham Phoeun said.

Mr Phoeun said he feared more people would require evacuation as the flooding worsened.

“We have already prepared everything like boats, police and military to help these people,” he said.

The Kratie Provincial Committee for Disaster Management said in a report that more than 3,000 houses, 53 schools and 56 pagodas had been hit by flooding, while more than 500 families had been forced to move.

Since August, floods have struck and then receded from many parts of the country along the Mekong River and in the Tonle Sap and Tonle Bassac basins.

About 56,000 hectares of paddy field and crops have been affected over the last two weeks alone, Mr Kean Hor said. An estimated 1,800 people remain displaced in Kompong Thom.

In 2000, rising water in the Mekong led to devastating floods, which prompted relief efforts by the armed forces and humanitarian organizations. Nearly one fifth of rice and corn crops were lost and one fifth of schools were damaged. Typhoon Ketsana in 2009 brought on prolonged flooding that left nearly 40,000 families in need of food and aid.

Manish Mehta, humanitarian program manager at Oxfam GB, said that it was hard to make comparisons, but the current floods seemed to be covering a larger area than the one hit by Ketsana.

This year’s flooding by the Mekong was showing a similar pattern to the floods of 2000, Mr Mehta said. Seasonal flooding was unusually high this year and the bad weather looked set to continue, he added. “There has been more rain and more floods.”

Emergency response by the provincial authorities and NGOs is getting underway in Kratie province. Safe highland areas have been prepared to accommodate evacuees, while stockpiles of supplies, including food, water filters and blankets, were ready, Mr Mehta said.


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