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(Updates death toll in third paragraph.)
Oct. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s worst floods in more than 50 years threaten to overwhelm barriers protecting Bangkok later this week, said Deputy Prime Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong, who urged residents in the capital to be prepared.
“We have to admit that we are in crisis,” Kittiratt told reporters in Bangkok yesterday. “Everybody must be prepared and can’t be complacent. You should prepare what you will do and where you will be.”
Floodwaters have swept across 60 of Thailand’s 77 provinces over the past two months, killing at least 281 people and swamping factories operated by Nidec Corp,. Honda Motor Co. and Canon Inc. The finance ministry this week cut its forecast for economic growth to 3.7 percent from 4 percent and said the disaster may cost 120 billion baht ($3.9 billion).
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has urged officials to complete work on three additional flood barriers and five more canals over the next week to drain water from the capital before high tides peak on Oct. 17.
“We won’t give up,” Yingluck said yesterday. “We will do everything we can because it’s better than doing nothing.”
Oct. 16 through Oct. 18 is the highest risk period for Bangkok, with low-lying areas near Suvarnabhumi airport and communities next to the river and canals the most vulnerable, the city’s Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra said this week. Officials are shoring up flood walls, preparing evacuation plans and readying medical supplies, he said.
‘Protect the City’
“The government will do its best to protect the city, but we can only build the barrier,” said Kittiratt, who last week described the deluge as the worst in at least 50 years. “If the water level exceeds the barrier, there is a chance the inner part of Bangkok will be flooded.”
Bangkok’s flood-defense efforts are focused on the Chao Phraya river, whose banks are lined with luxury hotels including the Peninsula, the Shangri-La and the Oriental, as well as the Bank of Thailand.
“We have increased the number of sandbags put in place to prevent water infiltration,” said Rashana Pimolsindh, a spokeswoman for Shangri-La Hotel Pcl. “There are several water pumps on standby at various points in the hotel.” Shangri-La received 20 cancellations in the past few days, and the hotel has an occupancy rate of 50 percent, she said yesterday.
Travel warnings have been issued by 21 countries including the U.S., Mexico and Spain, the Nation newspaper reported, citing an unidentified foreign affairs ministry official.
Bangkok authorities urged consumers to avoid panic buying after some supermarkets ran out of dry goods including rice and noodles.
“The situation is nowhere near crisis proportion just yet where food and water are concerned,” said Sukhumbhand, the Bangkok governor. “Major arteries to transport all these things to Bangkok are still open, so I hope it’s just temporary.”
Flood damage outside Bangkok disrupted deliveries to some supermarkets in the capital, said Saofang Ekaluckrujee, senior corporate affairs manager at Ek-Chai Distribution System Co., which operates Tesco Lotus hypermarkets in Thailand.
Efforts to divert water away from the capital and speed drainage may help Bangkok escape widespread flooding, Wim Rungwattanajinda, a spokesman for the national flood center, said by phone yesterday.
“I think there is a 90 percent chance that Bangkok will not be inundated,” Wim said. “We have monitored water levels around the clock to assess if the barriers can prevent floods. If they can’t, we will provide warnings.”
The disaster may cut economic growth by 1 percentage point to 3.9 percent in the fourth quarter, increasing the likelihood that the central bank may cut interest rates by as much as 50 basis points by year-end to aid reconstruction efforts, HSBC Holdings Plc said in a reported dated Oct. 10.
In Ayutthaya, 67 kilometers (42 miles) north of Bangkok, floodwaters shut down the Rojana Industrial Park, a base for companies making automotive and electronics parts. The 198 plants have a combined investment value of 56 billion baht, and a total workforce of 90,000, said Suparp Kleekhajai, the vice industry minister.
Hundreds of Honda cars were damaged when dikes failed at the Rojana park, where the company produces as many 240,000 vehicles a year, Pitak Pruittisarikorn, executive vice president of Honda’s Thai unit, said this week.
Panasonic Corp., Pioneer Corp., Omron Corp., Nikon and Nidec are among Japanese companies that have said they’re suspending operations at plants in Thailand because of the inundation.
Toyota Motor Corp., Asia’s largest carmaker, closed three factories in the country, Amiko Tomita, a spokeswoman for the company, said yesterday. The company operates a plant in Samut Prakarn province, southeast of Bangkok, and two in Chachoengsao province east of the capital, according to its website.
Ford Motor Co. suspended production in Thailand for 48 hours yesterday to assess inventory and logistics because suppliers in Ayutthaya were forced to halt operations, the company said. Ford’s own factory in Rayong province hasn’t been affected by flooding, the Dearborn, Michigan-based company said.
Ayutthaya “is beyond a crisis,” with floodwaters up to 3 meters deep in some areas, said the flood center’s Wim.
Seasonal storms have affected more than six million people in Southeast Asia and claimed a further 224 lives in Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines, the United Nations said last week. Monsoons across Asia last month generated about $7 billion of losses, including $1.1 billion in Thailand, Aon Benfield, a reinsurer, said in a report on Oct. 5.
“We are afraid Bangkok may be flooded” when high tides peak on Oct. 17, Defense Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapa said yesterday. “No one can guarantee whether it will be flooded or not.”
--With assistance from Daniel Ten Kate, Yumi Teso and Anuchit Nguyen in Bangkok. Editors: Tony Jordan, Patrick Harrington
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