More than 100 dead in Thailand flash floods

More than 100 people were feared dead Wednesday as searchers recovered corpses from a sea of mud spawned by flash floods in northern Thailand, local officials said.

Rescue teams in helicopters or on foot tried to reach thousands of people stranded in their houses, on trains and in open terrain devastated by floods triggered by days of heavy rain across several northern provinces.

The official toll stood at 26 people dead and 92 missing, but Boonriang Chuchai-saengrat, chief health officer of Uttaradit province, said he feared more than 100 had perished in his province alone.

"The search and rescue operation was suspended last night due to low light and will resume today once the sun rises. I hope to have a clearer number of the dead," said Saman Pangwatcharakorn chief of the regional Disaster Prevention and Rescue Center early Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters before boarding a plane to inspect the disaster scene in one of Uttaradit's worst-hit districts, Lablae, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra blamed the high number of casualties on the lack of any warning system for flash flooding. Some advocates in Thailand have pushed for such systems, though they have not drawn substantial attention.

"The alarm system is insufficient. I will push for alarms to be installed more quickly in the extremely at-risk areas," Thaksin said.

Dozens of houses in Lablae were engulfed in mud, their residents trapped within. Others were stranded on the roofs of their houses or in trees.

Boonriang appealed to government authorities to set up a disaster identification center like one established following the 2004 Asian tsunami to record unclaimed bodies and temporarily bury corpses for later identification.

Thaksin, who resumed his official duties Tuesday after a seven-week leave of absence, was accompanied on his trip to Uttaradit, about 420 kilometers (280 miles) north of Bangkok, by the agriculture and labor ministers, reports the AP.

I.L.