Thailand Flood ‘Crisis’ May Spread to Bangkok, Kittiratt Says

Thailand Rushes to Bolster Bangkok Defenses on Deluge Fear
Workers carry boxes as they remove goods from a flooded factory in Nonthaburi province, in suburban Bangkok. Photographer: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images

Thailand’s worst floods in more than 50 years have reached levels that threaten to overwhelm barriers protecting Bangkok, said Deputy Prime Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong, who urged residents in the capital to be prepared.

“We have to admit that we are in crisis,” Kittiratt told reporters in Bangkok today. “Everybody must be prepared and can’t be complacent. You should prepare what you will do and where you will be.”

Floodwaters have swept across 60 of Thailand’s 77 provinces over the past two months, swamping factories operated by Honda Motor Co. and Canon Inc. and destroying more than 10 percent of the nation’s rice farms. The finance ministry yesterday cut its forecast for economic growth to 3.7 percent from 4 percent and said the disaster may cost 120 billion baht ($3.9 billion).

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday urged officials to complete work on three additional flood barriers and five more canals over the next week to drain water from the capital before high tides peak on Oct. 17.

“The government will do its best to protect the city, but we can only build the barrier,” said Kittiratt, who last week described the deluge as the worst in at least 50 years. “If the water level exceeds the barrier, there is a chance the inner part of Bangkok will be flooded.”

Oct. 16 through Oct. 18 is the highest risk period for Bangkok, with low-lying areas near Suvarnabhumi airport and communities next to the river and canals the most vulnerable, the city’s Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra said yesterday by phone. Officials are shoring up flood walls, preparing evacuation plans and readying medical supplies, he said.

Luxury Hotels

Bangkok’s flood-defense efforts are focused on the Chao Phraya river, whose banks are lined with luxury hotels including the Peninsula, the Shangri-La and the Oriental, as well as the Bank of Thailand.

“We have increased the number of sandbags put in place to prevent water infiltration,” said Rashana Pimolsindh, a spokeswoman for Shangri-La Hotel Pcl. “There are several water pumps on standby at various points in the hotel.” Shangri-La received 20 cancellations in the past few days, and the hotel has an occupancy rate of 50 percent, she said today.

Travel warnings have been issued by 21 countries including the U.S., Mexico and Spain, the Nation newspaper reported, citing an unidentified foreign affairs ministry official.

Bangkok authorities urged consumers to avoid panic-buying after some supermarkets ran out of dry goods including rice and noodles.

‘Just Temporary’

“The situation is nowhere near crisis proportion just yet where food and water are concerned,” said Sukhumbhand, the Bangkok governor. “Major arteries to transport all these things to Bangkok are still open, so I hope it’s just temporary.”

Flood damage outside Bangkok disrupted deliveries to some supermarkets in the capital, Saofang Ekaluckrujee, senior corporate affairs manager at Ek-Chai Distribution System Co., which operates Tesco Lotus hypermarkets in Thailand, said today.

Efforts to divert water away from the capital and speed drainage may help Bangkok escape widespread flooding, Wim Rungwattanajinda, a spokesman for the national flood center, said by phone today.

“I think there is a 90 percent chance that Bangkok will not be inundated,” Wim said. “We have monitored water levels around the clock to assess if the barriers can prevent floods. If they can’t, we will provide warnings.”

Factories Swamped

The deluge has killed 269 people and affected 8.2 million more in Thailand since July 25, data from the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation show.

The disaster may cut economic growth by 1 percentage point to 3.9 percent in the fourth quarter, increasing the likelihood that the central bank may cut interest rates by as much as 50 basis points by year-end to aid reconstruction efforts, HSBC Holdings Plc said in a reported dated yesterday.

In Ayutthaya, 67 kilometers (42 miles) north of Bangkok, floodwaters broke through defenses around the Rojana Industrial Park, which is mostly a base for companies making automotive and electronics parts. The 198 plants have a combined investment value of 56 billion baht, and a total workforce of 90,000, said Suparp Kleekhajai, the vice industry minister.

Hundreds of Honda cars were damaged when dikes failed at the Rojana park, where the company produces as many 240,000 vehicles a year, Pitak Pruittisarikorn, executive vice president of Honda’s Thai unit, said yesterday.

“We will try to resume production at the plant as soon as we can, but we have to wait until the water situation is under control,” Pitak told reporters, adding that the company is insured against flood damage.

Toyota, Ford

Toyota Motor Corp., Asia’s largest carmaker, closed three factories in Thailand, Amiko Tomita, a spokeswoman for the company, said today by phone. The plants will be halted during the morning shift today and a decision will be made later on when to reopen them, Tomita said.

Toyota operates a plant in Samut Prakarn province, southeast of Bangkok, and two in Chachoengsao, a province to the east of the capital, according to its website.

Ford Motor Co. suspended production in Thailand for 48 hours to assess inventory and logistics because suppliers in Ayutthaya were forced to halt operations, the company said today. Ford’s own factory in Rayong province hasn’t been affected by flooding, the Dearborn, Michigan-based company said.

Ayutthaya “is beyond a crisis,” with floodwaters up to 3 meters deep in some areas, said the flood center’s Wim.

Seasonal storms have affected more than six million people in Southeast Asia and claimed a further 224 lives in Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines, the United Nations said last week. Monsoons across Asia last month generated about $7 billion of losses, including $1.1 billion in Thailand, Aon Benfield, a reinsurer, said in a report on Oct. 5.

“We are afraid Bangkok may be flooded” when high tides peak on Oct. 17, Defense Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapa told reporters in Bangkok today. “No one can guarantee whether it will be flooded or not.”

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