By Prak Chan Thul
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - At least 150 people in Cambodia and southern Vietnam have died in the worst flooding along the Mekong River in 11 years after heavy rain swamped homes, washed away bridges and forced thousands of people to evacuate.
Worse could be in store if Typhoon Nesat, which killed at least 39 people in China this week and plowed into northern Vietnam on Friday, dumps rain deep enough inland to further swell the Mekong.
Flooding across the fertile Mekong Delta helped drive rice prices to a three-year high in Vietnam this week, traders said, which will add to inflation problems.[ID:nL3E7KT0W2] The delta produces more than half of Vietnam's rice and 90 percent of its exportable grain.
In Cambodia, 141 people have died since August 13 due to Mekong flooding and flash floods, the Cambodian National Disaster Management Committee said.
"Now, more than 200,000 hectares (494,200 acres) of our rice paddies are under water but we don't yet know the full extent of the damage," said Keo Vy, deputy information director at the National Disaster Management Committee.
Cambodia is a minor rice exporter, but Vietnam is the world's second-biggest exporter behind Thailand.
In 2000, the worst flooding in decades killed more than 480 people across the Delta region. The following year, more than 300 people died when the Mekong, which flows 4,350 km (2,700 miles) from the glaciers of Tibet to the rice-rich Delta of southern Vietnam, overflowed its banks.
Some 150,000 families had been affected by the flooding in Cambodia this year and another 15,000 evacuated to higher ground, said Men Neary Sopheak, deputy secretary general of Cambodia's Red Cross.
Down river in Vietnam, at least nine people have died since seasonal floods arrived in the Delta in August, government and provincial disaster reports said. Floods had inundated nearly 3,800 houses and nearly 700 people were evacuated in An Giang province and the city of Can Tho.
Dykes and bridges were washed away in places and roads submerged by the muddy deluge. Production of shrimp and fish had been affected in parts of the Delta.
PEAK OF FLOODING NEAR?
Flooding is forecast to peak in Vietnam in early October. The waters had already peaked in Cambodia and were receding there slowly, the Vietnamese government said on Friday.
Water had reached 4.76 metres (15 ft 7 in) early on Friday at Vietnam's Tan Chau gauging station, 0.26 meter (10 in) above Alarm Level Three, the most dangerous flood condition at which inundation is widespread and dykes are in jeopardy.
It was forecast to peak at 4.9 metres (16 ft) by Sunday, the government said. Water 5 metres deep can submerge one-storey houses, which are common in the Delta in southern Vietnam.
Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai urged the provincial authorities to evacuate people from dangerous areas, speed up the rice harvest and close more schools to prevent deaths.
Around 5,000 hectares (12,355 acres) of the Delta's third rice crop have been inundated as floods broke through dyke sections in the provinces of Dong Thap and An Giang, and another 90,000 hectares (22,240 acres) were under threat.
The region has planted nearly 600,000 hectares (1.58 million acres) for the current crop, which is mainly for domestic consumption, and only 5 percent has been harvested, the agriculture ministry said.
In Thailand, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said 180 people had died in flooding since mid-July caused by tropical storm Nock-Ten and seasonal monsoons.
Two million people in 23 provinces have been affected, with 2.4 million acres of farmland under water. Officials say rice has been harvested early in some areas, which may cut yields.
Flooding was reported in the night bazaar in the northern town of Chiang Mai, popular with tourists, and flash floods and landslides were reported in areas around town due to the high level of the Ping river, officials said.
(Additional reporting by Ho Binh Minh in Hanoi and Jutarat Skulpichetrat in Bangkok; Writing by John Ruwitch; Editing by Alan Raybould and Sanjeev Miglani)