(Updates death toll in ninth paragraph.)
Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Thai authorities warned people living on the banks of the Chao Phraya river to prepare to evacuate as water levels reached a record and floodwaters began spilling into the nation’s capital.
About 4 billion cubic meters of water is approaching Bangkok, boosting levels in the Chao Phraya to 2.30 meters (7.5 feet) above sea level, exceeding the 2.27-meter peak reached in 1995, Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra wrote on his official Facebook page late yesterday. The city has an average elevation of less than 2 meters above sea level.
Efforts to bolster levees to protect Bangkok, which sits on a river basin the size of Florida that drains into the Gulf of Thailand, have slowed the dispersal of floodwaters that swamped farms and manufacturing hubs north of the city. The deluge has spurred tension between residents living outside flood barriers who want the water drained quickly to the gulf, and Bangkok inhabitants aiming to protect the capital.
“A massive amount of water is gradually flowing into Bangkok both through waterways and on roads,” Sukhumbhand said. “We have to warn people living along the banks of the Chao Phraya river both inside and outside the flood barrier line to consider moving to evacuation centers. Those who live inside the barrier still have time to prepare.”
Water surged onto a major street on the city’s northern outskirts yesterday, inundating cars and a hospital, according to images broadcast on military-owned Channel 5 television station. The Chao Phraya, which empties into the Gulf of Thailand about 30 kilometers south of the capital, is lined with hotels including the Oriental, the Peninsula and the Shangri-La, as well as the Bank of Thailand.
Floods may “may pose a danger” to people in nine districts including Lak Si, Don Mueang, Sai Mai, Nong Chok, Minburi, Khan Na Yao, Lat Krabang, Bang Phlat and Thawi Watthana, government spokeswoman Anuttama Amornvivat said.
“There is a huge amount of water coming into Bangkok,” Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told reporters yesterday. “From the models, there will be low-level areas that will be flooded. There is some difficulty in diverting the water into the sea.”
Yingluck has vowed to protect the city’s airports, power plants and major transport routes from floodwaters sitting north of Bangkok that she said may take six weeks to drain through the city’s 1,682 canals.
At least 366 people have been killed because of seasonal monsoon rains and flooding since July 25, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said on its website today.
The disaster has severed road and rail links, destroyed crops and shut down some production of food and drinking water, disrupting the ability of supermarkets in the capital to restock shelves. Conflicting warnings about the severity of the crisis have sparked panic buying.
“There are shortages of eggs, bottled water, pork and milk formula,” Vachari Vimooktayon, director general of the government’s Internal Trade Department, said yesterday after meeting with retailers. “Flooding has hampered logistics and many distribution centers are flooded. We plan to let retailers import products from Malaysia and Singapore.”
The government may cut import taxes on some affected goods, Vachari said. Soft-drink makers will be asked to shift production to drinking water to alleviate shortages, Deputy Prime Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong told reporters yesterday.
Yingluck yesterday urged state agencies and companies to close offices to help alleviate traffic congestion and told residents in affected areas that “if you have a choice to move to other provinces, you should do it.”
Flooding was “inevitable” in districts including Don Mueang, Lak Si, Bang Khen, Chatujak, Bang Sue and Sai Mai, the Bangkok governor said on Oct. 22. Chatujak is home to the city’s biggest weekend market, one of two places where the elevated train line intersects with the subway.
The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand, operator of Bangkok’s subway, closed 70 of 140 entrances, the government’s Public Relations Department said, citing deputy director Ronnachit Yaensaard. Services continued as normal, it said.
Three nights ago, “a few men with weapons” from areas north of the city where floodwaters are as high as 3 meters confronted Bangkok officials building a sandbag levee at a low- lying junction, spokesman Jate Sopitpongstorn said by phone yesterday. The men destroyed the barrier, he said, allowing the water to flow from Pathum Thani province into Bangkok.
Outside the city’s center, more than 100,000 people are living in about 1,700 government evacuation centers, which can handle as many as 800,000 people.
Nirut Hongprasith, head of the Royal Thai Navy’s Hydrographic Department, told reporters on Oct. 22 that “Bangkok will definitely be safe.”
Hours earlier, Yingluck said floodwaters throughout the capital may reach more than 1 meter and expressed concern about water levels in Saen Saeb canal, which runs close to shopping districts such as Central World and Sukhumvit Road.
The government will consider providing a “soft loan” of about 25 billion baht ($812 million) to help rebuild infrastructure at seven industrial estates that have been damaged by flooding, Deputy Prime Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong told reporters yesterday. Army chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha over the weekend ordered soldiers to strengthen levies around two industrial estates in Eastern Bangkok that are home to factories operated by Honda Motor Co., Unilever and Cadbury Plc.
Companies including Apple Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp. are facing the worst supply disruptions since the March earthquake that struck Japan. Thailand makes about a quarter of the world’s hard-disk drives and serves as a production hub for Japanese carmakers and electronics firms.
“The rising flood waters have hurt all Japanese auto manufacturers and many electronics firms, either directly at flooded plants or via affected parts suppliers,” Moody’s Investors Service said in a report yesterday, adding that it’s “credit negative.” The floods will cost Thailand 2 percent of its gross domestic product this year, it said.
Thailand’s central bank, which left the benchmark interest rate unchanged last week at 3.50 percent, signaled Oct. 20 it may consider cutting rates as the disaster threatens to slow growth. The benchmark SET Index fell 4.1 percent last week. The exchange was closed yesterday for a holiday.
The damage caused by the floods cost as much as 120 billion baht, Bank of Thailand Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul said Oct. 14. Barclays Capital cut its forecast for Thai economic growth this year to 2.9 percent from 3.7 percent because of flood- related losses, it said in a report. Official data last week showed exports rose 19.1 percent in September from a year earlier, the least since June.
--With assistance from Anuchit Nguyen in Bangkok. Editors: Patrick Harrington, Tony Jordan
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