Bangkok: Floods that have sparked an exodus from the Thai capital crept closer to the city centre on Friday, but hopes grew that emergency barriers would prevent a major overflow from Bangkok's main river.

The city of 12 million people is on heightened alert because of threats on two fronts -- a seasonal high tide this weekend that is expected to coincide with the arrival of a mass of water from the flood-stricken central plains.

The three-month crisis -- triggered by unusually heavy monsoon rains -- has left at least 377 people dead and damaged millions of homes and livelihoods, mostly in northern and central Thailand.

While the government is largely focused on defending the capital, people in the worst-hit provinces north of the city have endured weeks of flooding.

Thousands of residents have left Bangkok after the government declared a special five-day holiday, flocking to rail and bus stations in the city and jamming roads as they head to areas out of the path of the water.

So far, however, central Bangkok has only seen minor inundation in areas along the main Chao Phraya River, including near the Grand Palace, with most of the city centre still dry.

"The Chao Phraya overflowed and flooded some areas along the river but it receded quite quickly," a spokesman for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration said after this morning's high tide.

Tourists walking through ankle-deep water near the Grand Palace appeared unfazed, despite a slew of travel warnings from foreign governments.

"It's adding to our experience," said 32-year-old British honeymooner Melanie Willoughby. "They all seem to be coping well. The only thing we found is that it's been hard to get (drinking) water."

Flood-hit Thais to work in Japan

Tokyo is to allow thousands of Thai workers employed by flood-hit Japanese firms to come to Japan and work, a government spokesman said on Friday.

Dozens of Japanese companies in Thailand have halted production as rising flood waters have crippled factories and squeezed supply chains following months of heavy rain.

The effect on production, which has affected giants such as Toyota and Honda, is worrying Japanese policy-makers, already fretting over an economy stumbling to recover from March's earthquake and tsunami and a punishingly high yen.

"Japan will accept Thai workers employed by Japanese firms who have stopped operation due to the flood to work in Japan on certain conditions such as that the companies will ensure they return home," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said.

The Thai workers will be permitted to stay in Japan for six months as "an emergency and temporary measure" that involves about 30 companies and several thousand Thai workers, Fujimura told a news conference.

The decision came after requests from Japanese firms which are looking to make up lost production in Thailand by boosting output at home, Fujimura said.

"The damage from the flood, through its impact on supply chains, is creating a serious impact on not only the Japanese economy but also the economic activity of all ASEAN members," Fujimura said, referring to the 10-member Southeast Asian trading bloc.

The three-month flood crisis -- partly caused by unusually heavy monsoon rains -- has left at least 377 people dead and damaged millions of homes and livelihoods, mostly in northern and central Thailand.

Areas in northern Bangkok have seen waist-deep flooding, leading to the shutdown of the city's second airport, Don Mueang.

Thousands of residents have left the capital after the government asked employers to give their staff a special five-day holiday.

Thailand is a hub for Japanese manufacturers using relatively cheap labour to assemble products aimed at markets such as China and India.

Japan's trade and industry ministry said on October 25 it would expand loan guarantees and trade insurance programmes to help Japanese firms deal with the impact of production problems.

(Agencies)