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Thai leader confident Bangkok will mostly escape flooding; misery remains in some areas
BANGKOK (AP) ' Thailand's prime minister expressed optimism Sunday that the country's worst flooding in a half-century would mostly spare Bangkok, as some dikes overflowed but the capital's defenses otherwise held firm during critical high tides.
Waters were receding from many inundated areas of Thailand after killing 381 people, but the misery remained for several communities still under water and feverish efforts to protect downtown Bangkok continued as runoff from the north pushed through on its way to the Gulf of Thailand.
Rescuers evacuated a heavily pregnant woman stranded in the swamped neighborhood of Thonburi in the northern outskirts of the city.
"We had to get her to hospital," said marine rescue team member Nitipat Mongolpradit.
The network of dikes defending against the city's main Chao Phraya river broke down in at least two neighborhoods as a record high tide pushed up from the gulf, with water spilling into streets as city workers and troops rushed to shore up concrete walls with sandbags.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told residents of Bangkok to be "confident" as she headed into a government crisis meeting, saying there may be overflow into some areas but that it would not cause any great damage.
"We will recover soon," she said.
Bangkok's governor, Sukhumbhand Paribatra, said the Chao Phraya reached a record level early Sunday of 2.53 meters (8.3 feet), just above what he previously said were dike heights of 2.5 meters. However, the tides were expected to ease below critical levels after Monday, and officials have suggested that the flooding situation will improve after that.
Floodwaters have submerged entire towns across the country's heartland and shuttered hundreds of factories over the last two months. In the past week, the waters have reached into outer neighborhoods of the capital, while its central districts of skyscrapers, apartment towers and glitzy malls have remained dry.
This weekend's high tides were described as the greatest test of the capital's flood defenses, and many wary business owners hastily built temporary cement-and-brick walls around their entrances.
While downtown Bangkok was bone-dry, areas along the city's outskirts saw flooding spread. Seven of Bangkok's 50 districts ' all in the northern and western outskirts ' are heavily inundated. Eight other districts have seen less serious flooding.
Thousands of Bangkok residents used a special five-day holiday to leave town, with some wary of confusing warnings regarding the flood threat and others concerned about sparse supplies in stores due to weeks of panic buying and flood-related distribution problems.
The governor highlighted another threat: sanitation. He urged residents to make less garbage, saying refuse collectors were having trouble reaching all areas of Bangkok.
Associated Press writer Vee Intarakratug contributed to this report.