UTTARADIT, Thailand – Search dogs led rescuers to three bodies buried under mud and two people who had passed out on a hill, starving, days after torrential rains triggered flash floods in northern Thailand that killed at least 50 people, officials said Friday.
More than 1,000 soldiers and volunteers were using dogs, helicopters and bare hands to search for victims of the devastating flash floods, but work was proceeding slowly because some areas were only accessible by helicopter.
Teams dug through mud and debris for bodies in Uttaradit province's hard-hit Tha Pla district, which was devastated by a landslide, said Maj. Lertchai Khaithong, chief of the search and rescue center in Uttaradit.
"Dogs have helped a lot in the search for bodies and survivors trapped in the jungle," Lertchai said Friday. "The dogs led rescuers to a couple who had passed out on a hill and had been there for three days, starving."
He said the couple had scrambled up the hill to escape the flood and had been trapped there for three days before the dogs found them late Thursday. The dogs also helped recover three bodies buried under the mud on Thursday, he said.
In neighboring Phrae province, a team of soldiers was led to a dead body in a jungle by a barking dog late Thursday, said Sgt. Akadej Wannamahachai, one of four soldiers who found the body of Surachai Senakham.
Surachai's body and his dog Chango were lifted out of the area by helicopters. Local television showed Surachai's 5-year-old daughter rushing to Chango and crying after the dog was rescued.
Meanwhile, 18 psychiatrists were sent to the area to help hundreds of flood victims suffering from stress, said Somchai Chakahan, chief of the government's mental health department.
About 6,000 flood victims have been hospitalized with various illnesses, with about 10 percent suffering from stress, Somchai said, noting, "Some even think of committing suicide."
Official Thai rescue agencies say between 48 and 51 people have been confirmed dead and between 66 and 87 are missing from the flooding in Nan, Phrae, Lampang, Sukhothai and Uttaradit provinces, but totals from some local agencies put the number of missing as high as 300.
Officials have been slow to release updated figures because of communication difficulties.
Nine people were pulled to safely Thursday by helicopters after being stuck on a mountaintop for three days at Lablae in the Tha Pla area.
Other people are still stranded in trains. Train service to northern Thailand was cut by the floods, and is expected to resume only this weekend.
The Meteorological Department issued a warning Thursday of possible flash floods and mudslides from new rain expected in the north.