11/10/2011 10:09 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Thailand tries to help companies affected by flooding, as water spreads further

BANGKOK - Thailand offered more help Thursday to businesses affected by widespread flooding, as water spread deeper into Bangkok and threatened to cut off a major highway.

The flooding since late July has killed 533 people, caused billions of dollars in damage, and inundated hundreds of factories north of the capital. Water draining from central and northern provinces to the sea has surrounded Bangkok, threatening chaos in the crowded city of more than 9 million people.

The floodwaters are also trickling onto the main route south from the city, Rama II Road. If the water gets deeper, it will cut off the last dry highway to Thailand's south.

An irrigation department official said floodwaters in Bangkok's outskirts are likely to fall but must still pass through as-yet unaffected parts of the capital to reach the sea.

While some water will drain out through rivers, some will have to flow through city streets because there is such an enormous amount, said Boonsanong Suchatpong, spokesman for the Royal Irrigation Department.

The industrial closures have had effects well beyond Thailand, since the factories supply key components for several industries, particularly automobiles and computers.

Thailand's Board of Investment already has taken some steps to help flooded companies, such as allowing tax write-offs for damaged raw materials and easing rules on bringing in foreign nationals to help with recovery.

New measures announced Thursday include allowing companies to temporarily outsource production to maintain customer deliveries and extending import tax exemptions on replacements for damaged machinery.

Japanese companies including Honda and Toyota have been especially hard hit. Some have complained they were not given timely and accurate information that would have allowed them to prepare for the floods.

After Thailand's recent political instability, the floods have raised the possibility that foreign companies may relocate elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra accompanied Japan's ambassador on an inspection this week of Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok, where several flooded industrial estates with Japanese factories have begun cleanups.

Virabongse Ramangkura, a former finance minister who heads a new reconstruction and development committee, said he would consult in Tokyo with officials from Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on how best to aid the stricken businesses.

It remains unclear how much further damage there may be.

The irrigation department's Boonsanong said the pressure and amount of floodwater could slow as authorities use large numbers of pumps to push the water out through three rivers to the sea.

Water levels in the three rivers should return to normal within 10 to 15 days, but it will take an additional three to four weeks for water to drain entirely from inundated areas, he said.