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Bangkok Volunteers Fortify Levy as Thai Factories Deluged

Bangkok Volunteers Fortify Levy
Thai Buddhist monks prepare sandbags to be used as flood barriers at Dhammakaya temple in Pathum Thani province, suburban Bangkok. Photographer: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images

Thousands of volunteers bolstered floodwalls in Bangkok, boosting confidence among officials tasked with protecting Thailand’s capital from a surge of water that has shut factories and disrupted supply chains across Asia.

“We have enough sandbags,” Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra said yesterday in Sai Mai district, where about 2,000 soldiers, students, residents and city workers gathered to fill more than one million sandbags to strengthen a six-kilometer (3.7-mile) levy. “I am very happy with the response.”

Two days ago, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government urged city administrators to bolster flood defenses as a mass of water descended onto the capital, where it must pass before draining into the Gulf of Thailand. North of the city, factory managers tallied the losses from a disaster that has claimed 315 lives since July.

The nation’s worst floods in five decades have closed about 1,000 factories operated by companies including Honda Motor Co. and Canon Inc. and disrupted supply chains for manufacturers such as Toyota Motor Corp. Western Digital Corp., which relies Thailand for 60 percent of production, may see exports from the country slide as much as 40 percent to 120 billion baht ($3.9 billion) this year after floods shut two of its plants.

“This will surely affect the global supply chain and also consumers because Western Digital is a key producer in the global market,” Industry Minister Wannarat Charnnukul told reporters after meeting with executives from the computer disk-drive maker yesterday. The company counts Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc. and Acer Inc. among its customers.

Boat Evacuation

Government officials plan to use boats to evacuate those remaining in Navanakorn Pcl’s industrial estate north of Bangkok after it was flooded, said Wim Roongwatanachinda, a spokesman for the Flood Relief Operation Command. The Cabinet yesterday agreed to widen the 2012 budget deficit by 50 billion baht to fund flood reconstruction, Finance Minister Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala said.

"They probably need to do more because fiscal policy now would not just be focused on consumption," Santitarn Sathirathai, a Singapore-based economist at Credit Suisse Group AG, told Bloomberg Television today. "To restore investor confidence, they need to invest in water management and infrastructure."

Baht Strengthens

Thailand’s baht strengthened after retreating from a three-week high yesterday on concerns a disruption in manufacturing will hurt exports and economic growth, gaining 0.2 percent to 30.68 per dollar at 9:15 a.m. local time. The benchmark SET Index fell 1.9 percent, with Thai Reinsurance Pcl plunging 8.4 percent, extending an 18 percent decline this month.

The Bank of Thailand will keep its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 3.50 percent today after having raised it six times this year, according to all but one of 17 economists in a Bloomberg survey. One predicted a 25-basis point cut. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

In Sai Mai, festive music played from loudspeakers as volunteers sorted 10-kilogram sandbags, filled them up and tossed them onto six-wheeled dump trucks. Temporary shelters provided respite from the sun as workers handed out water, soda, fried rice, muffins and other snacks.

“Saving this area means saving my home,” said San Santayanont, 36, taking a rest after loading trucks with sandbags. He lives and works in a nearby district.

‘Last Line of Defense’

“This is the last line of defense basically for Bangkok,” said former Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij. He arrived with former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose party lost to Yingluck’s Pheu Thai in July elections.

“We don’t think there will be mass flooding of northern Bangkok in the way that we saw in other provinces,” Korn said. “Inner Bangkok is even more safe.”

Abhisit said Bangkok will continue facing a threat “for awhile” as the mass of water moves through the city. Yingluck’s government caused confusion and “underestimated the force of nature,” he said.

Along the floodwall, water seeped past sandbags in some areas as workers stacked them up to build a barrier bigger than two meters (6.5 feet) next to a canal brimming with water. Some houses made of tin and wood next to the canal were partly submerged, with residents saying they were concerned water would overwhelm them as has happened in provinces to the north.

‘Scared’ of Drowning

“I’m scared the children will drown because the water is very deep,” said Chamnong Promdaeng, as she watched her three grandchildren play with stuffed animals on a wooden platform that sat above about two feet of water. “I can’t leave my house because thieves will steal everything.”

Further down the street, Urai Riengkua echoed those concerns. The 43-year-old cradled her 14-month-old grandson while standing barefoot beside a house made of scrap metal and wood, which was only accessible by walking over the water on a wooden plank propped up by sandbags taken from the levy.

“I’ve never seen water this high,” Urai said. “I want to move but I don’t know where to go. If the water surges, I will take my grandchild and run as fast as I can.”

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