Death toll from flooding rises to 27 in Thailand

The death toll from flooding has risen to 27 in southern Thailand where thousands of people stranded in remote villages are sick from flood-related diseases, officials said Monday. Interior Minister Kongsak Wantana said about half a million people were affected by the floods in nine southern provinces and that six army helicopters dropped food and medicine to people trapped by flood waters.

"More than 40,000 people are sick from flood-related diseases" such as conjunctivitis, Public Health Minister Phinij Jarusombat told reporters. Conjunctivitis is a reddening of the eyes caused by bacteria and irritants such as dirt.

The Disaster Prevention Center said Monday that 27 people have died in floods over the past two weeks but gave no details of the latest victims.

Meanwhile, more than 12,000 people in hard-hit Pattani province have been evacuated to higher ground, said Pattani Gov. Panu Uthairat. He added that rescue teams had to wait until daylight to start work because they feared attacks by separatists in the violence-plagued province.

"We received reports from several sources that people are trapped there and are waiting to be rescued, but we had to wait for sunrise, otherwise we could have stepped into a trap of insurgents," Panu said. He has ordered more than 600 schools closed.

The floods, triggered by heavy rains over the past two weeks, prompted the government over the weekend to declare nine southern provinces disaster zones. The affected area includes the Muslim-majority provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, where more than 1,100 people have died in separatist violence since January 2004, reports the AP. I.L.

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