Thai Premier Says Flood Severity in Downtown Bangkok ‘Unclear’

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Thailand’s worst flooding in 50 years may reach inner Bangkok, as a deluge from the north drains through the capital and threatens to overrun canals in the city center.

“Bangkokians will have some impact as water will flow through canals,” she told reporters today. “It is still unclear how long Bangkok people will be affected as there are many uncontrollable factors.”

Floodwaters throughout the capital may reach more than one meter (3.3 feet), she said in response to questions from reporters today. Yingluck expressed concern about water levels in Saen Saeb canal, which runs close to shopping centers such as Central World and Sukhumvit Road. The nation’s heaviest flooding in a half century has killed more than 300 people.

Residents in the capital are stocking up on water, canned food and instant noodles after Yingluck warned them to move belongings to high ground. She has vowed to protect the city’s airports, power plants and major transport routes from floodwaters sitting north of Bangkok that may take six weeks to drain through the city’s 1,682 canals.

Bangkok officials warned residents in nine of the capital’s 50 districts to expect flooding as water presses against levies. The threatened areas contain about 20 percent of the capital’s 5.7 million people and 44 percent of the total land area, according to government statistics.

Apple, Toyota Disruptions

Floods north of the capital have swamped thousands of businesses, causing the worst supply disruptions for Apple Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp. since the March earthquake that crippled 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.

Pramote Maiklad, a former irrigation chief who is advising Yingluck, told reporters water should be drained out of the eastern part of Bangkok to take pressure off downtown areas. The capital sits on the bottom of a flood plain that has an average elevation of less than two meters (6.6 feet) above sea level.

“The eastern part of Bangkok has a lot of canals and permanent barriers that can handle certain amounts of water,” he said. “So we should divert the water to that part and pump it out of the sea to protect inner Bangkok.”

Army chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha yesterday 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.

No Guarantees

“We’ll do our best to protect them,” Prayuth told reporters in Bangkok yesterday after visiting the industrial estates. “We can’t guarantee 100 percent that they won’t be flooded.”

Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok’s main international airport, was operating normally along with Don Mueang airport, which mostly handles domestic flights and houses the government’s flood relief operations command. The city will experience a high tide from Oct. 28 to Oct. 30, Yingluck said.

Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra gave “a very strong warning” for 27 communities along the Chao Phraya river to head to government shelters after water levels unexpectedly rose yesterday before stabilizing, spokesman Jate Sopitpongstorn said by phone.

Tourist boats were still operating along the river today near an elevated train station. The nearby Shangri-La Hotel had a meter-high, stone barrier on top of a retaining wall to protect against flooding. Only a handful of people were seen in the lobby this afternoon.

Hotels, Offices

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 Plc, the nation’s biggest hotel operator.

Just outside the city, boats ferried women, children and the elderly down main boulevards past people trudging through waist-deep water carrying plastic bags over their heads, television images showed. More than 100,000 people are living in about 1,700 government evacuation centers, which can handle as many as 800,000 people, Yingluck said. Toxic water was found in Patum Thani north of Bangkok, the government said.

Thailand’s central bank, which left the benchmark interest rate unchanged this week at 3.50 percent, signaled Oct. 20 it is may consider cutting rates as the disaster threatens to slow growth. The benchmark SET Index fell 4.1 percent last week.

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 yesterday 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 two days ago.

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