PATHUM THANI, Thailand -- Efforts to clean up areas near Thailand's capital that were covered by as much as three feet (a meter) of floodwater just two weeks ago are accelerating, as the threat of inundation in Bangkok eases.
Hundreds of volunteers joined monks in gathering flood debris into garbage bags Tuesday near a massive temple that houses the Dhammakaya Buddhist sect in Pathum Thani province, just north of Bangkok.
"Floodwater in many parts of Thailand has begun to drain away, and we can see cleaning activities being organized in many places," said Sanitwong Wuttiwangso, a monk at the temple.
Since July, more than a fifth of the country's 64 million people have been affected by the worst flooding in more than 50 years, and at least 606 have died.
Seventeen provinces remain under water, including western Bangkok, where floodwaters are much lower than earlier predicted but moving only slowly toward the sea.
Central Bangkok has remained dry, but most buildings in the area constructed sandbag barriers or even temporary cement walls because of fears that the entire city would be inundated.
On Silom Road in the central business district, many stores are now removing their barriers.
"I've been watching the news, and it looked like it isn't going to flood," said Max Somprakon, an employee at Coffee Society, a cafe on Silom that took down its barrier two days ago.
The cafe had initially built a 1.5-foot (half-meter) sandbag wall, which it later doubled in size, and as a result lost about 70 percent of its business, he said.
"Customers couldn't get in, and normally our customers want to sit and watch people on the street. With the wall, the atmosphere was lost," he said. "It's getting better now."
Associated Press writer Alisa Tang in Bangkok contributed to this report.