New leader admits government overwhelmed by flooding crisis

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BANGKOK — Thailand’s new prime minister acknowledged Wednesday that the country’s flood crisis has overwhelmed her government, and she pleaded for mercy from the media and solidarity from the country in battling the relentless waters.

In an emotional appearance before reporters, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said her administration is doing all it can and trying to be as clear as possible about where the flooding may strike next.

However, mixed messages from officials in recent days about whether the floodwaters will enter Bangkok have left people confused.

A poll by ABAC, associated with Bangkok’s Assumption College, found that 87 percent of 415 people surveyed did not trust information from the government’s flood command center.

“We have been doing everything we can, but this is a big national crisis,” Mrs. Yingluck said. “I’m begging for mercy from the media here.”

Bangkok’s city government, headed by the opposition, urged residents in seven northern districts to move belongings to safe places because of likely flooding. The warning came days after some officials had indicated the worst threat had passed.

Meanwhile, flooding in areas directly north of the city worsened despite frantic government efforts to stave off the water.

The death toll in nationwide flooding is 317, mostly from drowning, with nearly 9 million people affected and 27 of the country’s 77 provinces still inundated.

Initial estimates of the economic cost of destroyed shops, paralyzed factories and swamped farmland were $3 billion, but have since been rising.

Floodwaters in northern areas began in August and have crawled slowly south toward the Gulf of Thailand, though the government has notched up the urgency of flood-control efforts only in the past two weeks.

“The government had said over and over again they were able to handle the situation, then what happened? It got flooded from there to here,” said Puntip Susuntitapong, a 61-year-old retired banker in Bangkok.

Mrs. Yingluck had no previous government experience when she came into power in August as the standard-bearer for the party aligned with her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who is a fugitive on corruption convictions but still widely popular.

A distraught Mrs. Yingluck appealed Wednesday to reporters to stop asking whether Bangkok will be inundated.

“The more you ask questions like this, the less useful it is going to be,” she said, adding that her role is to coordinate, not disseminate information.

She said experts are more qualified than she to give information, and that her own personal views “might lead to lack of confidence and confusion among the people.”

“We are telling the truth, not concealing anything from the people,” she said. “We have been doing everything we can, but this is a big national crisis. On our own, we can’t get it done. We need unity from every side, and today we must set politics aside.”

The administration’s low point in handling the floods may have been Oct. 13, when Science Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi issued a spur-of-the-moment order on live television to immediately evacuate an area north of Bangkok.

Within 20 minutes, he and his colleagues from the government’s flood emergency team were back on the air to rescind the order.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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