Bloomberg News

Thai Floods Threaten Bangkok as Canals Used to Drain Water

October 20, 2011

(Updates with prime minister’s comments in second paragraph.)

Oct. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s government warned that floodwaters may reach parts of inner Bangkok, sending stocks and the baht lower as the government struggles to control a deluge that has inundated thousands of factories.

Authorities opened gates to drain water through Bangkok’s canal system to help relieve pressure on defenses in the city’s north. The plan “won’t cause severe floods along roads” in the capital, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said today.

Yingluck has vowed to protect Bangkok from floods that forced the closure of thousands of factories to the north that supply parts to companies such as Apple Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp. The nation’s worst flooding in five decades has killed 320 people and left millions scrambling for dry ground.

Thailand’s benchmark SET Index fell 3.1 percent, the most in Asia, and the baht weakened 0.75 percent to 30.92 per dollar as of 6 p.m. local time.

“We have to drain the water into the sea as much as we can,” Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told reporters in Bangkok today. “As there are massive amounts of water, we can’t control its direction. We will empty it through our drainage networks at the maximum capacity.”

The government earlier today warned residents living near Prapa canal, which runs from northern Bangkok to an area of the city near Victory Monument along an elevated train line, to be vigilant against floodwaters.

‘Bangkok May Be Swamped’

“If we can’t pump water out on time, there is a chance Bangkok may be swamped,” Pracha Promnog, head of the national flood center, said in a phone interview with Channel 3 today. Although Bangkok is being closely monitored “it is not a risky zone,” Yingluck said.

Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand’s main international airport, is operating normally and protected with a 3.5-meter barrier to prevent floods, Air Chief Marshal Sumet Phomanee, chairman of airport operator Airports of Thailand Pcl, said today by phone. In the worst-case scenario of the facility being flooded, airlines would be asked to relocate operations to the U-Tapao airport in the eastern province of Chonburi.

The situation is more “worrisome” near northern Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport, which is mostly used for domestic flights and where the government has set up operations to manage the floods, Sumet said. Residents in the area have parked cars on elevated highways and moved belongings to higher floors as waters threaten the district.

Dam Water Deluge

Rainfall about 25 percent more than the 30-year average filled upstream dams to their capacity, prompting authorities to release large amounts of water this month down a flood plain the size of Florida. The waters have affected 14,254 factories and businesses in 20 provinces, leaving 664,567 workers at risk of losing jobs, according to the Labor Ministry.

Opening Bangkok’s canals “can help empty the water but not by a lot because of the massive amount of water from the north,” Jate Sopitpongstorn, a spokesman for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, said by phone today.

It will take about 40 days for the 12 billion cubic meters of water, enough to cover Connecticut a meter deep, to drain into the Gulf of Thailand, Irrigation Department spokesman Boonsanong Suchatpong said yesterday. The floods have swamped industrial estates north of the capital with as much as three meters of water.

Japanese carmakers led by Toyota, Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. may lose more than $500 million because of the floods, according to Kohei Takahashi, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Tokyo. Computer disk-drive maker Western Digital Corp., which counts Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. as customers, may see exports from Thailand slide as much as 40 percent, Industry Minister Wannarat Charnnukul said Oct. 18.

“It’s a revival of the nightmare for the Japanese manufacturers” following the March 11 record earthquake and tsunami, Yuuki Sakurai, president at Fukoku Capital Management, told Bloomberg Television today from Tokyo. “They may have to start off from zero again.”

--With assistance from Suttinee Yuvejwattana in Bangkok. Editors: Mark Williams, John Brinsley

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net; Supunnabul Suwannakij in Bangkok at ssuwannakij@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net


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