Bloomberg News

Thai Floods Spill Into Northern Bangkok After Levee Violence

October 24, 2011

(Adds prime minister’s comment in third paragraph.)

Oct. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Thai floodwaters spilled into northern Bangkok today after armed men stopped workers from building a sandbag levee and a water gate broke, elevating concerns the deluge will spread to inner parts of the capital.

Water surged onto a major street near Bangkok’s northern border, inundating passenger cars and a hospital, according to images broadcast on military-owned Channel 5 television station. Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra last night warned residents of six northern districts to move belongings to higher ground as the water approached.

“There is a huge amount of water coming into Bangkok,” Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told reporters today. “From the models, there will be low-level areas that will be flooded. There is some difficulty in diverting the water into the sea.”

The levees protecting 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 have swamped farmland and forced Honda Motor Co. and Canon Inc. to shut factories. The deluge has spurred tensions between residents in areas north of the capital who want the water drained quickly to the gulf, and Bangkok inhabitants aiming to protect the city.

‘Move’

Yingluck blamed a "technical problem" for the malfunctioning of a water gate on the city’s edge and ordered Irrigation Department officials to fix it quickly. She urged state agencies and companies to close offices to help alleviate traffic congestion.

“If you have a choice to move to other provinces, you should do it,” Yingluck said.

Flooding in the districts, which represent about 10 percent of Bangkok’s land area, “is very imminent and inevitable,” the governor said in a statement issued late last night. He urged the young, old and ill to evacuate to city shelters and for others to move belongings to higher ground.

The six districts immediately at risk are Don Mueang, Lak Si, Bang Khen, Chatujak, Bang Sue and Sai Mai, Sukhumbhand said. Chatujak is home to the city’s biggest weekend market, one of two places where the elevated train line intersects with the subway. Estimates of Bangkok’s total population vary, with the U.S. State Department putting the figure at 9.7 million.

‘Men With Weapons’

Two nights ago, “a few men with weapons” from areas north of the city where floodwaters are as high as three meters (10 feet) confronted Bangkok officials building a sandbag levee at a low-lying junction, spokesman Jate Sopitpongstorn said by phone today. 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. Toxic water was found in Pathum Thani, the government said.

Conflicting official warnings about the severity of the three-month-old crisis sparked panic buying of water and food in the capital, and banks and hotels have built walls of sandbags to guard against the deluge.

Nirut Hongprasith, head of the Royal Thai Navy’s Hydrographic Department, told reporters yesterday that “Bangkok will definitely be safe.”

Hours earlier, Yingluck said floodwaters throughout the capital may reach more than one meter and expressed concern about water levels in Saen Saeb canal, which runs close to shopping districts such as Central World and Sukhumvit Road.

Apple, Toyota Disruptions

The government will consider providing a “soft loan” of about 25 billion baht to help repair damage and rebuild infrastructure at seven industrial estates that have been shut down by flooding, Deputy Prime Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong told reporters today. 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 today, adding that it’s “credit negative.” The floods will cost Thailand 2 percent of its gross domestic product this year, it said.

Rate Cut Possible

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 is closed today for a holiday.

The damage caused by the floods cost as much as 120 billion baht ($3.9 billion), 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.

Thailand may lose 6 million metric tons of unmilled rice as floods damage key plantation areas, Apichart Jongskul, secretary-general of the Office of Agricultural Economics, said in a phone interview Oct. 21. Communities in parts of Southeast Asia face “serious food shortages,” the United Nations said in a report.

Food Runs

Residents in the capital are stocking up on water, canned food and instant noodles even as downtown shopping malls remained filled with people. 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.

Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok’s main international airport, was operating normally. The city will experience a high tide from Oct. 28 to Oct. 30, Yingluck said. Sukhumbhand on Oct. 22 warned 27 communities along the Chao Phraya river to head to government shelters after water levels unexpectedly rose at the weekend before stabilizing.

Elsewhere in Bangkok, major hotels in downtown areas Silom, Sukhumvit and Sathon were operating normally, even as they took precautions. Sandbags were piled near office buildings and hotels, including the St. Regis owned by Minor International Pcl, the nation’s biggest hotel operator.

--With assistance from Anuchit Nguyen and Tony Jordan in Bangkok. Editors: John Brinsley, Patrick Harrington

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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