Mekong river could rise 3 metres

THAILAND - Thai authorities have put people living along the Mekong River on high alert because a dam in Yunnan province in southern China needs to release a huge volume of water soon due to heavy rainfall upstream.

"If the discharge from China's Jinghong Dam reaches 8,000-9,000 cubic metres per second, the water level will increase by about three metres (within days)," Songklod Duanghaklang, director of the Chiang Rai Marine Office, said yesterday.

The office sent a letter to the Chiang Saen district chief warning that the dam would drain water from its reservoir from September 5-30.

The dam on the mainstream of the Mekong has the capacity to discharge up to 9,000 cubic metres per second. Its reservoir now contains 591-602 million cubic metres, the letter said.

When the level touches 8.5 metres, the Mekong will overflow in the Thai province of Chiang Rai.

"We are now working closely with the local weather bureau to monitor the water level and, when the need arises, issue timely alerts," he said.

The Irrigation Department, however, has reported that Jinghong dam is discharging 535 cubic meters of water per second downstream. As of Saturday, the water level at Chiang Rai's Chiang Saen district, the first Thai district where the water would reach, was seven metres below the river bank, it said.

Other locations including Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom and Mukdahan are 2.2, 3.7 and 4 metres below the river bank, it said.

The Mekong River Commission, a regional body for Mekong utilities, has issued no flood warnings from sites it monitors for water flow. The level of the Mekong in its stretch through Thailand should be stable for this week, the MRC's website says. The forecast level at Chiang Saen district today is 4.65m, which is far below the 11.8m flood level at the site, it said.

Meanwhile, flooding in the Chao Phraya basin is now at a critical stage.

Chatchai Promlert, director-general of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department, said Chiang Rai, Sukhothai, Tak, Nakhon Sawan and Phichit were now inundated.

"Flash floods have hit 25 villages of Chiang Rai," he said.

Flooding has affected more than 14,000 people in 28 provinces across the country since August 26. In less than two weeks, floods have caused 10 deaths. However, the worst is over in most provinces.

"Only five provinces are still under water," Chatchai said, referring to records in his hands.

Officials were now mobilising resources for rescue and relief operations. "Infrastructure is being restored and financial aid is being delivered to flood victims in line with the law," he said.

Victims can call 1784 round the clock for help from his department.

Locals in the Lower Chao Phraya River Basin are now bracing for possible floods, as run-off from the North will usually reach their hometowns around this time of the year.

"I've seen the water in my neighbouring canal rising up fast in recent days," said Bang-orn Kulsiri, a resident of Angthong.

This canal is a tributary of the Chao Phraya River, she said,

The National Disaster Warning Centre has also issued flash flood and landslide warnings for Prachin Buri, Chanthaburi and Trat.

"Floods and mudslides may strike on Sunday and Monday," it said.