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Flood waters in Thailand's capital are continually receding and all main streets will be dry in two weeks, authorities said Wednesday, providing long-overdue good news after months of inundation that killed 564 people nationwide.
Also Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will announce a "substantial" aid package when she arrives on a hastily arranged trip to express solidarity, officials said.
Some 20 of Thailand's 77 provinces have been hit by the floods since July, mostly in northern and central areas, and more than one-fifth of the country's 64 million people have been affected in some way. The flooding has attracted international attention and scared away tens of thousands of tourists.
Many areas remain flooded, especially those to the west and east of Bangkok, and it is still expected to take weeks for all that water to reach the Gulf of Thailand. Runoff spread to some sections of Rama II, a major road in Bangkok, but vehicles were still able to drive through, officials said.
But the government appears to have averted a worst-case scenario in which the densely populated and economically critical center of Bangkok succumbed.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority reported on its website that the overall flood situation in the capital is improving fast, especially in Don Muang, where the smaller of Bangkok's two airports was forced to close, and Lad Phrao, a district studded with office towers, condominiums and a popular shopping mall.
The water level in Bang Sue canal, the last protective barrier for inner Bangkok, has also fallen, the government said. And Highways Department chief Wanchai Phakluck said a flooded highway connecting Bangkok with the southern provinces was expected to reopen Thursday.
Lad Phrao intersection is expected to be totally dry by this weekend, and all other main streets will be back to normal within two weeks, Bangkok Gov. Sukhumbhand Paribatra said.
Clinton decided to make a detour to Thailand on her way to Bali, Indonesia, to attend a Southeast Asian summit. Also in town is U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will also visit some flood-affected areas.
Clinton "will be announcing a very substantial package of flood assistance and other cleanup efforts that will take place not just in the coming days and weeks but over a sustained period," a State Department official said. The official cannot be identified under briefing rules.
The official said Clinton has worked closely with an interagency team and will announce the specifics either Wednesday or Thursday. She is also expected to visit some flood evacuation sites and meet Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Yingluck's government has received intense criticism for not anticipating the extent of the floods and for letting the countryside and the outer neighborhoods of Bangkok stay under water to protect downtown areas, the cradle of tourism.
Large swaths of Bangkok neighborhood have been under knee-deep, and even waist-high, water for weeks. Scuffles have often broken out between authorities and residents trying to pull down makeshift dikes holding back the water from entering central Bangkok.
But the government's efforts to pump out the water into the Chao Phraya river seem to be paying off, according to the latest reports.