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Thai Death Toll Rises to 636

April 16, 2001

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ The death toll from traffic and other accidents during the Thai New Year holiday has risen to 636, by far the highest on record, the Public Health Ministry said Monday.

``At least five people were killed and 300 injured every hour,″ national police spokesman Maj. Gen. Phongsapat Phongchareon said.

Traffic accidents accounted for 442 of the fatalities and 25,637 of the 49,453 injuries recorded since Thursday, a Health Ministry statement said. It said other people were killed or injured in drunken quarrels, from electrocution, drowning and other festival-related accidents.

Last year, 164 people died during the holiday period, The Nation newspaper reported. Officials say the much higher toll this year is partly due to improved recording of accidents.

During Songkran, as the Thai New Year is known, it is traditional for revelers to sprinkle or throw water on each other to ensure rain for the coming rice planting season. In recent years, celebrations have grown more raucous.

Phongsapat said he believed the long holiday _ extended two days because it coincides with the weekend _ was to blame for the huge toll, which is expected to rise further. Thais go back to work on Wednesday.

Update hourly