Bangkok Flooding
A man plays harmonica in front of a wall made of sand bags to protect a business building from floods in Bangkok's financial district November 15, 2011. REUTERS

On Saturday, Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra declared central Bangkok safe from further flooding. The latest news was a welcome change from the images of devastation just two weeks ago. The news came as U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to offer any help needed to begin the recovery process.

It's certain that the inner zone of Bangkok will be safe from floods because the measures to hold floodwaters have been successful, Yingluck said in her weekly radio and television address.

Thailand suffered its worst flooding in half a century, and approximately 5.4 million people are still affected around the kingdom. The death toll climbed to 602 over the weekend, according to new figures from the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.

Many areas north and west of the capital are still under water and full or partial evacuation orders are in force in 24 of the city's 50 districts.

Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra joined 1,000 volunteers to clean up a major road junction in the city's north on Saturday, vowing to have the whole city clean by the end of the year.

Nevertheless, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) began wooing back tourists with a statement that 97 percent of all tourist attractions nationwide are safe from floods.

In the statement, the tourism authority said some 40 of Thailand's 1,200 tourist attractions that appeal to international visitors, or around three percent of Thailand's key tourist attractions, have been affected by the floods.

They added that the popular World Heritage site of Ayutthaya, an hour north of Bangkok, is also dry.

At the TAT, our hearts go out to all the Thai people affected by the flood, said TAT Governor Suraphon Svetasreni. All Thais are pulling together to help each other and the country has received generous support from many countries, especially the people of China. The flood waters are receding in the central provinces, all the way down to Ayutthaya, and the cleanup has begun. The remaining floodwaters in the affected parts of Bangkok and the surrounding provinces are expected to be clear within the next four to six weeks. Meanwhile, tourist destinations in the rest of Thailand are ready to welcome visitors.

Several nations have lifted travel warnings for Thailand as the waters recede in areas of Bangkok.

Suvarnabhumi Airport, the main gateway to Thailand for international arrivals, remains unaffected by the floodwaters and all flights are operating as usual. The airport serves over 800 flights per day and in October, experienced an increase of 6.7 percent over the previous year.

The numbers dropped considerably in November as nations issued travel warnings for Bangkok.

The closure of Don Mueang airport, the only shuttered airport in the kingdom, has had little effect on domestic flights within Bangkok. The two domestic airlines operating from that airport have temporarily switched their operations to Suvarnabhumi, with flights accommodated on a normal schedule.

Tourism will play an important role in sustaining the kingdom's economy as its other pillars, agriculture and industry, have suffered greatly from the floods.

Tourism is a vital part of Thailand's economy, employing about 15 percent of the workforce and contributing about six percent of the GDP. More than 2,000,000 Thai people work in the kingdom's tourism sector.

The TAT will fly hundreds of members of the media to Thailand over the next few weeks to see firsthand that very few of Thailand's tourist attractions are affected.

Prime Minister Yingluck met with Obama on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit on the Indonesian island of Bali on Saturday - it was the first time the novice prime minister met face-to-face with the U.S. leader.

Obama congratulated Yingluck on her inspirational election victory in July and pledged U.S. support in the flooding crisis.

We will extend any assistance we can, Obama said. The U.S. and Thailand are two of the oldest allies, with great friendship. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the victims of the flood.

Washington promised over $10 million to help Thailand recover from the disaster.


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