Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra urged Bangkok residents to move belongings to higher ground as floodwaters that have swamped factories and displaced millions this month start moving through the capital.
Boats ferried women, children and the elderly down main boulevards on the city’s outskirts past people trudging through waist-deep water carrying plastic bags over their heads, television images showed. Cars were submerged on some streets.
“We will try to protect all areas in Bangkok from flooding as best we can,” Yingluck said. “I would like every department to cooperate to fight this crisis.”
Thailand’s worst floods in half a century have claimed more than 300 lives since July and shuttered more than 14,000 businesses in a country that makes about a quarter of the world’s hard-disk drives and serves as the Southeast Asian production hub for Japanese carmakers. Apple Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp. are facing the worst supply disruptions since the March earthquake that crippled Japan.
Authorities opened more than 200 gates on Oct. 20 to drain water through Bangkok’s 1,682 canals to help relieve pressure on defenses in the city’s north. It may take more than a month for water to leave the capital, which sits on the bottom of a flood plain the size of Florida that has an average elevation of less than two meters (6.6 feet) above sea level.
A “huge amount” of water entered a canal used to process tap water that stretches from flooded areas to inner parts of the city, Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra said in a statement yesterday. Yingluck ordered repairs to the levy along the waterway and assured residents that tap water remained safe.
“It’s not a critical situation yet,” Chaiyuth Sukhsri, head of the water resources engineering department at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said by phone. “We’ve been lucky it hasn’t rained. Next week if there is some rain coupled with a high tide, parts of the inner city may suffer.”
Thailand’s SET Index fell 4.4 percent this week, while the baht lost 0.7 percent to trade at 30.99 per dollar. The central bank, which left the benchmark interest rate unchanged this week at 3.50 percent, signaled yesterday it is willing to consider cutting rates as the disaster threatens to slow growth.
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 yesterday showed exports rose 19.1 percent in September from a year earlier, the least since June.
Thailand is the world’s largest producer of hard-disk drives, the biggest exporter of rice and rubber and the second-largest supplier of sugar, according to government data. Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said this week the floods set back supply of components used in Mac computers.
The automotive industry is among the hardest hit and the disruptions will ripple worldwide in the short term, according to Frost & Sullivan. Toyota will extend a production halt at its three plants in Thailand until Oct. 28 following disruptions in the supply of parts after flooding, Shiori Hashimoto, a company spokeswoman, said yesterday.
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 yesterday.
In Ayutthaya, families struggled to find food and water in floodwaters that reached neck high. Prasert Puangchan, 58, travels hours to an adjacent town in a motorboat to get drinking water.
“We can’t do anything but be patient until the water recedes,” he said by phone. “If the water continues to rise, we may have to live in a boat.”