BANGKOK — Clambering aboard bamboo rafts and army trucks, people fled waterlogged homes on the outskirts of Thailand's capital Thursday, as floods that have engulfed a third of the country inched closer to downtown. Foreign governments urged their citizens to avoid unessential travel to the threatened city.
Most of Bangkok remained dry and most of its more than 9 million residents were staying put to protect their homes. Still, uncertainty and the start of a government-declared five-day holiday fueled an exodus of people fearing the worst who clogged highways and air terminals to get out of town.
Tears welling in her eyes, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra acknowledged her government could not control the approaching deluge.
"What we're doing today is resisting the force of nature," Mrs. Yingluck told reporters.
She said the water bearing down on Bangkok was so massive that "we cannot resist all of it."
The floods, the heaviest in Thailand in more than half a century, have drenched a third of the country's provinces, killed close to 400 people and displaced more than 110,000 others.
For weeks, the water has crept down from the central plains, flowing south toward the Gulf of Thailand. Bangkok is in the way, and now it is surrounded by behemoth pools of water flowing around and through it via a complex network of canals and rivers.
By Thursday, flooding had inundated seven of Bangkok's 50 districts, most on the northern outskirts. There, roads have turned into rivers and homes and businesses are swamped. On one flooded key east-west artery, police were turning back small cars, telling them the road had become impassable.
The government has expressed deep concern about higher-than-normal tides expected through the weekend that are expected to peak Saturday.
Mrs. Yingluck has warned that the entire city could flood if key barriers burst or if the Chao Phraya river, which snakes its way through the heart of the metropolis, crests above flood barriers lining its banks.
The river already has overflowed, sending ankle-high water lapping at the white exterior walls of Bangkok's gilded Grand Palace, a treasured complex that once housed the kingdom's monarchy and is a major tourist attraction.
Though floods a day earlier swept through Bangkok's Don Muang airport and shut it down, the city's main international airport was operating as usual.
Several foreign governments issued advisories urging their citizens against all but essential travel to Bangkok. Britain's Foreign Office said "flooding is likely to disrupt transport, close tourist attractions and may affect electricity and water supplies."
The U.S. Embassy cautioned Americans that ground travel around Thailand was difficult and the situation should be monitored closely.