Bloomberg News

Bangkok Leader Calls for Sandbags as Floods Besiege Capital

October 18, 2011

(Adds budget deficit in fifth paragraph.)

Oct. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra appealed for more than a million sandbags to prevent flooding in the Thai capital as a “huge amount” of water from northern dams threatens to deluge inner parts of the city.

“Every minute is critical from now on,” he told a televised press briefing late yesterday in which he asked for 1.2 million sandbags. “We urge the government to give those bags now. Otherwise, it will be too late.”

Sandbag shortages are widespread, with the price jumping 15-fold to 75 baht ($2.44) each, Sean Boonpracong, a spokesman for the government’s Flood Relief Operation Command, said by phone today. A “lack of accurate information from the field” makes the situation unclear, he said, adding that inner Bangkok doesn’t face an immediate threat.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is seeking to spare Bangkok from the country’s worst flooding in 50 years after heavy monsoon rains forced officials to release large amounts of water from northern dams. The disaster has killed more than 300 people and swamped at least 930 plants employing more than 300,000 workers, according to government data.

Thailand’s Cabinet today agreed to widen the 2012 budget deficit by 50 billion baht to fund flood reconstruction, Finance Minister Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala said.

‘Surrounded by Water’

Sukhumbhand, whose opposition Democrat party was defeated by Yingluck’s party in national elections three months ago, said flooding may occur in suburban parts of northern Bangkok, including areas near Don Mueang airport, which handles mostly domestic flights and where the government has set up a flood relief center. Levies must be built urgently along canals in nearby Rangsit to prevent floods, he said.

“At the moment we are surrounded by water,” Jate Sopitpongstorn, a spokesman for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, said yesterday by phone. “What we are afraid of over the next two or three days is whether the sandbags we put in place will be able to hold.”

Four eastern districts in Bangkok, a city of 9.7 million people with an area twice the size of Singapore, are flooded with about half a meter (1.6 feet) of water, Jate said. Waters would rise slowly if temporary levies are breached, he said.

City officials are monitoring flood defenses along the Chao Phraya river, whose banks are lined with hotels including the Peninsula and the Shangri-La, as well as the Bank of Thailand. Bangkok sits near the bottom of the river basin, a low-lying area the size of Florida in which water drains from Chiang Mai in the north down to the Gulf of Thailand.

No Rate Cut

The Bank of Thailand will likely hold interest rates at a meeting tomorrow as reconstruction efforts and a “powerful stimulus” from Yingluck’s campaign pledges offset concerns about slowing economic growth, HSBC Holdings Plc economist Frederic Neumann wrote in a note.

The central bank will “assess the situation again and see how flexible we can be” after the waters recede, Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul told reporters in Bangkok yesterday, after saying last week the floods may cause damage of 120 billion baht and force the central bank to cut its forecast for economic growth this year. Bank of Thailand policy makers have increased borrowing costs for seven straight meetings.

The disaster may reduce economic growth by as much as 1.7 percentage points this year, Thirachai said yesterday, without specifying a reference point. The ministry on Sept. 28 cut its 2011 growth forecast to a range of 3.8 percent to 4.3 percent from a June forecast of 4 percent to 5 percent.

China, Malaysia

China and Malaysia may be the most vulnerable to supply chain disruptions stemming from the floods for office machinery, including hard-disk drives, Santitarn Sathirathai, a Singapore- based economist at Credit Suisse Group AG, wrote in a note yesterday. Thailand accounts for 60 percent of global production of hard-disk drives, the note said.

Yingluck apologized after floods swamped part of Navanakorn Pcl’s industrial zone in Pathum Thani on Bangkok’s outskirts, which employs 180,000 workers at 227 plants, including a hard- disk drive plant operated by Toshiba Corp., according to Toshiba’s website.

About 30 percent of the industrial zone is flooded, and officials are negotiating with local residents to open five water gates to help drain floodwaters, Pracha Promnog, head of the flood center, said today.

A total of 419 Japanese companies have shut down operations in the six worst-affected industrial estates, according to data from the Japan External Trade Organization’s Bangkok office. Others have been forced to idle plants because of supply-chain disruptions, according to Jetro.

At least 315 people have been killed and 8.8 million more affected as monsoon rains and floods have swept across 61 of Thailand’s 77 provinces over the past three months, the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department said yesterday. Floodwaters are still present in 27 provinces.

--With assistance from Supunnabul Suwannakij, Anuchit Nguyen and Yumi Teso in Bangkok. Editors: Tony Jordan, John Brinsley

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net; Suttinee Yuvejwattana in Bangkok at suttinee1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Tighe at ptighe@bloomberg.net


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