BANGKOK, Thailand -- Two months of typhoons and heavy monsoons have flooded Southeast Asia, killing nearly 500 people, forcing thousands of survivors to flee including prison inmates and hospital patients, plus drenching the region with fresh storms on Thursday (Oct. 6).

"Meteorologists have indicated that flooding in some of these countries is the worst in 50 years," the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said on Wednesday (Oct. 5), describing the devastation in Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Laos, and Vietnam.

Successive storms, born in the South Pacific, have battered their way westward, first hitting the Philippines and continuing on to slam Vietnam's long, S-shaped coastline.

Some of those storms also traveled further west to flood Cambodia before soaking northern Thailand.

Meanwhile, a separate batch of powerful rainstorms during the past six weeks have emerged from the Bay of Bengal, whipping northeast to punish Thailand on a second saturated front.

The loss of life and damage across Southeast Asia has included:

-- Thailand:

Starting around July 25, rain and floods have killed at least 244 people in north, northeast and central Thailand, the worst-hit country in Southeast Asia, and vast areas were still underwater on Thursday (Oct. 6).

About 600 convicts in Ayutthaya Central Prison were evacuated to other jails to escape incoming water on Thursday (Oct. 6), while another 900 inmates prepared for transport.

At least 16 patients in Ayutthaya province's Bangahan Hospital were bundled onto small boats during Wednesday night (Oct. 5) for treatment elsewhere, after the medical facility was forced to shut because of three-foot-high water.

Several dams and dykes in deforested northern Thailand recently began overflowing, causing flash floods to wreck nearby towns, villages and farms.

A new tropical storm, Nalgae, was expected to cross Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during the next few days and drop more rain on Thailand where more than two million people in 58 provinces are struggling to survive the floods.

Swirling water damaged about 2.5 million acres of rice plantations, in addition to other crops, and also killed animals and disrupted transportation on roads, railway lines, and at some upcountry airports.

The overflowing Chao Phraya river has already smothered some northern outskirts of Bangkok, which averages an elevation of only six feet above sea level.

Bangkok is not sufficiently protected despite walls, canals, pumping stations and other infrastructure designed to drain floods into the Gulf of Thailand.

-- Cambodia:

Repeated rainstorms caused Cambodia's two main rivers to overflow, flooding 14 of the country's 24 provinces, especially Siem Riep, Pursat, Battambang, Banthey Menachey, Prey Veng, Kandal, Kampong Cham and, worst hit Kampong Thom, UNOCHA said.

"More than 177,000 families have been affected, 17,300 families evacuated, and 150 are dead," it said.

Aid organizations usually estimate five people per family, which would mean 885,000 Cambodians have been affected by the floods -- the worst in a decade.

-- The Philippines:

The islands of the Philippines were exposed to two typhoons -- Nesat which hit Luzon island on Sept. 27 and Nalgae which crossed the same northern island on Oct. 1 -- killing at least 60 people and causing extensive damage.

Both those typhoons continued west to torment Vietnam.

-- Laos:

More than 20 people have died in impoverished, tiny, landlocked Communist Laos during the past few months, receiving storms drifting in from Thailand and Vietnam.

-- Vietnam:

Typhoon Nalgae hit Vietnam on Wednesday (Oct. 5) along its eastern shores, just south of the capital Hanoi, and continued to drop heavy rain on Thursday (Oct. 6).

Vietnam's north, central area, and south have already been plagued with floods during the past two months, due to heavy monsoons arriving from the South China Sea.

Southern Vietnam has also suffered from the swollen Mekong river, fed by rains in southern China, Laos, and Cambodia along the upper reaches of the river's meandering route which then flows past southern Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City and into a delta leading to the sea.

At least a dozen Vietnamese have perished, more than 20,000 homes have been flooded, and thousands of acres of farmland have been damaged during the deluges.


Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based jo, a non-fiction book of investigative journalism. His web page is

Asia Correspondent

(Copyright 2011 Richard S Ehrlich)