Bloomberg News

Thai Floods May Ease as Bangkok Defenses Hold, Yingluck Says

October 30, 2011

(Updates death toll, flooded areas in 19th paragraph.)

Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s three-month-old flood crisis may ease this week as waters move through Bangkok’s canal system and recede in areas north of the capital, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said.

“Please be patient for two to three more days,” Yingluck told reporters yesterday. “After the high tides recede, the drainage system can work at full capacity.”

The disaster has spread over 63 of Thailand’s 77 provinces since late July as rainfall about 42 percent more than average forced dams to release large amounts of water. Floodwaters that have killed almost 400 people and swamped factories and farms north of Bangkok are now flowing through the capital toward the Gulf of Thailand, 30 kilometers (19 miles) to the city’s south.

“Water from the north shouldn’t surge into Bangkok because the authorities have managed to gradually allow it to flow into the city,” Yingluck said. “If the barriers don’t collapse, inner Bangkok shouldn’t be flooded.”

The flooding in Bangkok is mainly limited to northern and eastern areas and low-lying places near canals. Some of the city’s major tourist attractions, including the Grand Palace and Chatuchak market, have experienced minor flooding, while the business districts of Silom and lower Sukhumvit remained dry, with sandbags protecting many office buildings and shops.

Confusion over the severity of flooding has fueled panic in the capital, leading to shortages of bottled water, eggs and baby formula as the worst floods since 1942 reach Bangkok. Dikes north of the city are holding back water that has inundated about 10,000 factories, disrupting the supply chains of companies including Honda Motor Co. and Western Digital Corp.

Flight Cancellations

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport is operating normally and the company that operates the facility is “confident” that it can be protected from flooding, Somchai Sawasdeepon, senior executive vice president of Airports of Thailand Pcl, said Oct. 28. Still, Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. and Singapore Airlines Ltd. have both canceled some Bangkok flights as the waters deter visitors.

The central bank last week cut its forecast for economic growth this year as the floods take a toll on manufacturing and tourism. Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy may expand 2.6 percent in 2011, down from an earlier forecast of 4.1 percent, and 4.1 percent next year, the Bank of Thailand said.

The government announced a 5-day holiday through Oct. 31 for 21 northern and central provinces to give people time to prepare for flooding. Commercial banks and financial markets will remain open.

Protecting Levees

Bangkok authorities are concentrating efforts on draining water through the Rapipat and Hok Wa canals, Yingluck said yesterday. Tidal surges may still threaten riverside communities until sea levels decline early this week, she said.

“We have to protect the barriers,” Yingluck said. “Some water may still overflow the barriers, but it won’t cause the whole city to be swamped.” Earlier yesterday, Yingluck asked people living outside Bangkok’s flood defenses not to damage dikes, after some residents clashed with officials who were trying to repair them.

“We’re worried about the levees along canals and ask for cooperation from people not to destroy them because it will make water management even more difficult,” she said. Residents in some flooded areas have torn down levees to allow water to flow to unaffected areas.

Chao Phraya River

People living near canals that run through northern Bangkok districts including Sai Mai, Bang Khen, Lak Si, Chatuchak, Lad Prao, Huay Kwang, Don Mueang and Wang Thong Lang should prepare to evacuate as a large volume of floodwaters arriving from northern provinces pushed up water levels, the city’s Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra said yesterday.

The Chao Phraya river running through Bangkok swelled to a record 2.53 meters above the mean sea level, or 27 centimeters below the government’s main barriers, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration said on its website yesterday. The tide reached 1.30 meters above the mean sea level yesterday, and may be 1.27 meters at 10:21 a.m. today, it said.

Late yesterday, water from the river started seeping into drains in streets around the Shangri-La and Oriental hotels. Twenty meters away, street vendors were selling rubber rain boots alongside their usual offerings of t-shirts and watches. Convenience stores in Sukhumvit Road posted signs on their doors in English saying “Sorry, we really have no water.”

‘Confident’

Authorities are monitoring levels in the city’s canals and bolstering sandbag barriers while accelerating efforts to drain floodwaters to the east and west of the capital, Jate Sopitpongstorn, spokesman for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, said yesterday by phone.

“We still have reports of an ongoing and continuous increase in water levels from the north and east,” he said. “There is not a substantial amount of good news, but we are confident that what we are doing at the moment can handle the situation.”

Yingluck at the weekend said floodwaters in Nakhon Sawan and Ayutthaya provinces north of Bangkok have started to recede, and rebuilding is beginning in some areas. She warned that high tides until Oct. 31 makes this “a critical period” for the capital, where officials are monitoring dikes and 1,682 canals that are being used to drain floodwaters.

The disaster has claimed at least 381 lives since July 25, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said on its website. About 26 of Thailand’s 77 provinces are still affected, the agency said. Rainfall this year through Oct. 21 was 42 percent above average, according to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

“The situation isn’t beyond what we expected,” Yingluck said. “After the water stabilizes, it will gradually recede. We have to closely monitor the barriers to prevent them from collapsing.”

--With assistance from Daniel Ten Kate, Anuchit Nguyen and Suttinee Yuvejwattana in Bangkok. Editors: Tony Jordan, Stephen Cunningham

To contact the reporter on this story: Supunnabul Suwannakij in Bangkok at ssuwannakij@bloomberg.net

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


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