Associated Press (AP) 26/5/2006
Soldiers Search for Thai Flood Victims
By APICHART WEERAWONG
May 25, 2006, 3:19 PM EDT
UTTARADIT, Thailand -- Rescuers employed dogs, helicopters and their bare hands Thursday in the ongoing search for victims of devastating flash floods in northern Thailand that killed 50 people and left at least as many missing.
A thousand soldiers joined the grim task in Uttaradit, where teams sifted through mud and debris for bodies in the province's hard-hit Tha Pla district, which was devastated by a landslide, Maj. Lertchai Khaithong said.
Amnuay Chantamun, a top district official, was quoted by TV Channel 9 as saying that he feared that more than 100 people were still buried in mud, some of them itinerant plantation workers who might not be reported missing and whose bodies could be difficult to identify.
Another official, Kiartiphan Rangsrisakorn, said the bodies of 10 people from his village were discovered and 48 people were still listed as missing.
"At this moment we presume that those missing are dead," he said.
Three trained search and rescue dogs were sent by helicopter to Tha Pla district to search for bodies, said Maj. Lertchai, chief of the search and rescue center in Uttaradit.
"We believe that a large number of dead bodies were covered by mud, so we need sniffing dogs to help," he said.
Heartbreaking tales were told by survivors of the flooding, which crested early Tuesday.
Ten-year-old Kanchana Thepanan lost her parents and grandmother in the flooding.
"The tree felt on my face and I was trying to push myself up," she told iTV television from her hospital bed.
Kanchana said the roaring waters swept family members from her house in all different directions.
"What we must urgently do now is search for survivors and bodies of the dead that have not yet been retrieved," Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said. "Relief operations will follow after residents have been evacuated to safer places."
Thaksin, quoted by the state Thai News Agency, said providing food and shelter were the government's priority, and it would later repair and rebuild housing.
Official Thai rescue agencies say between 48 and 51 persons died and between 66 and 87 are missing from the flooding in Nan, Phrae, Lampang, Sukhothai and Uttaradit, but totals from some local agencies put the number missing as high as 300.
Officials have been slow to release updated figures because of communication difficulties.
Boonriang Chuchai-saengrat, chief health officer of Uttaradit province, said he feared more than 100 perished in his province alone.
Nine people were pulled to safely Thursday by helicopters after being stuck on mountaintop for three days at Lablae in the Tha Pla area.
Other people are still stranded in trains and railway station. Train service to northern Thailand was cut by the floods, and is expected to resume only this weekend.
The Meteorological Department issued a warning Thursday of possible flash flooding and mudslides from new rain expected in the north.