Mekong River floods claim more lives

MEKONG DELTA, Vietnam, Reuters

Relentlessly rising waters from the Mekong River have claimed more Cambodian and Vietnamese lives and threaten to inundate Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh in coming days, officials said on Saturday.

The International Red Cross said the worst region-wide floods in decades have swamped as many as 500,000 homes in three key rice growing provinces of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta bordering Cambodia and driven some 150,000 people to seek refugee on higher ground.

Monsoon rains which have been dumping torrents into the stricken Delta every day were threatening to drive another 500,000 people from low lying homes to seek safety on often crumbling earthwork dikes, the Red Cross said.

Villagers camped on dikes say they have almost no food and no clean water. Families are crammed together in tiny leaking shacks in extremely poor sanitary conditions.

Cambodia says the floods are its worst for 70 years and has sought help for an estimated 600,000 people.

A vast area of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam has been affected.

Flooding has already killed 94 people in Cambodia since July and nearly two dozen in Vietnam and caused tens of millions of dollars of damage to crops, homes and livestock.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai told reporters on Friday night more than 85 percent of the rice crop in the country’s main northeastern growing area had been affected.

One of the three worst hit Vietnam Delta provinces, An Giang, said on Saturday that the death toll in the past week had risen to 11, including 10 children. There have been eight other deaths in the past week in neighboring provinces of Dong Thap and Long An.

Floods and typhoons lash Vietnam every year from July, and have killed more than 50 people this year. Last November, typhoons and floods in the central coastal areas killed 730.

On Saturday, the governor of Phnom Penh appealed to residents to stay calm and avoid panic-buying of food.

Distributing emergency aid to 1,200 families whose homes had been flooded in the eastern suburbs of Phnom Penh, Chea Sophara said he was confident two dikes around the city would withstand rising water levels.