Thousands flee flood-threatened Bangkok

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Tens of thousands of people are fleeing the flood-threatened capital of Thailand, Bangkok, after as the city’s governor ordered official evacuations for the first time since the crisis began.

Floodwaters bearing down on the city have killed 373 people nationwide since July, causing billions in damage and shutting down Bangkok’s second largest airport.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government had repeatedly vowed to protect the capital, which has so far mostly escaped unscathed. But official assessments have turned grim in recent days and everywhere people are preparing for flooding that seems all but inevitable.

Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra said residents of two of the city’s 50 districts – Don Muang and Bang Phlat, both already partially submerged – should leave for safer city shelters. “This is the first time I am using the term ‘evacuation,’ the first time I’m really asking you to leave,” he said.

Elsewhere in the city, thousands of people packed Bangkok’s Mo Chit bus terminal, trying to leave town on their own. But waiting was prolonged because there was no space inside the terminal, the main departure point for buses to Thailand’s north.

Authorities were also forced to move hundreds of inmates from three prisons -– many on death row – to other provinces.

Satellite maps of Bangkok showed a city almost entirely surrounded by water. Most of the vast pools of runoff now submerging a third of the country are flowing from the north toward Bangkok – southward toward the Gulf of Thailand.

In the district of Sai Mai, on the capital’s northern outskirts, waist-high water turned roads into virtual rivers and swamped service stations and homes.

Hundreds of residents climbed aboard packed military trucks with their belongings, desperate to leave. But help was in short supply.