- Associated Press - Thursday, March 31, 2011

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s navy used helicopters and an aircraft carrier on Thursday to rescue more than 800 tourists stranded by heavy rains on the country’s picturesque southern islands.

Nearly a week of torrential rains has caused flooding and landslides in southern Thailand that killed at least 17 Thais and left tourists stranded on islands in the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand, where ferry services were canceled due to rough water.

The flooding has affected 840,000 people in eight southern provinces and inundated 61 highways, the Department of Disaster Prevention said Thursday.

Some 730 travelers, mostly foreigners, spent the night camped on mats aboard the HTMS Chakri Naruebet, the Royal Thai Navy’s sole aircraft carrier, after being evacuated from the island of Koh Tao, according to a statement from the navy and Thai television news reports.

The navy said it also rescued more than a hundred people from other islands including Koh Phangan, known for its raucous all-night beach bash, the Full Moon Party.

Thai TV coverage showed parents clutching their babies on the aircraft carrier’s deck and smiling backpackers giving a thumbs-up and taking pictures of their military rescue.

U.S., Australian, French, British and Russian citizens were among those rescued, the Tourism Ministry said. They were being transported to destinations such as Bangkok and Pattaya.

Airlines resumed service to the resort island of Samui after its international airport was closed for several days.

Thailand’s weather bureau forecast the rain would stop this weekend but warned of wind and 6-foot (2-meter) waves, making it unsafe for small boats.

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