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Thai Floodwaters Rise Near Bangkok, Testing City’s Defenses

Bangkok River Swells to Record as Flooding Reaches Capital
Residents walk through flood waters with their possessions in Bangbuathong, Thailand, on Oct. 24, 2011. Photographer: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Thailand’s government said water levels rose further on Bangkok’s outskirts and may overwhelm defenses, raising concern that the nation’s worst floods in more than 50 years may spread to new areas of the capital.

“Water will enter Bangkok from Rangsit, Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani,” Pracha Promnog, head of the government’s Flood Relief Operations Command, said today, referring to areas to the city’s north and west. “Water will flow into Bangkok, which is a low-lying area, and the government isn’t sure how much the city’s drainage system can handle.”

Efforts to bolster levees to protect the capital have slowed the dispersal of floodwaters that swamped almost 10,000 factories north of the city. The deluge has spurred tension between residents living outside flood barriers who want the water drained quickly to the Gulf of Thailand, and Bangkok inhabitants aiming to protect the capital.

The Chao Phraya river, whose banks are lined with hotels including the Oriental, the Peninsula and the Shangri-La, overflowed its banks in some areas after water levels reached a record of 2.30 meters (7.5 feet) above sea level yesterday, exceeding the 2.27-meter peak reached in 1995, Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra said. Bangkok has an average elevation of less than 2 meters above sea level.

About 4 billion cubic meters of water is approaching Bangkok from areas north of the capital, Sukhumbhand said.

Airports, Roads

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has vowed to protect airports, power plants and major transport routes from floodwaters that she said may take six weeks to drain through rivers and Bangkok’s 1,682 canals.

At least 366 people have been killed because of seasonal monsoon rains and flooding since July 25, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said on its website today.

The three-month-old disaster will cut about 1 percentage point from economic growth, causing the economy to expand less than 3 percent this year, central bank Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul said today.

The budget for rehabilitation may exceed 100 billion baht ($3.2 billion), Prasarn said, adding that there was no need for central bank policy makers to hold a special meeting to discuss monetary policy.

Companies including Apple Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp. are facing the worst supply disruptions since the March earthquake that struck 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. Toyota Motor will maintain its investment in the country, Yukitoshi Funo, the company’s deputy managing director, said after meeting Yingluck today.

Factories Flooded

About 9,850 factories in eight provinces have been flooded, said Chalitrat Chandrubeksa, a deputy government spokesman. The plants represent a total investment of 800 billion baht and employ 660,000 workers.

The Cabinet today approved a plan to provide 325 billion baht of loans to companies and residents affected by the disaster. Corporate income taxes for companies in industrial estates will be waived for eight years, Industry Minister Wannarat Charnnukul said today.

The Cabinet also called for a public holiday from Oct. 28 to Oct. 31 for government agencies in 21 northern and central provinces including Bangkok, Government spokesman Thitima Chaisang said. Commercial banks will remain open, according to the Bank of Thailand.

Water Shortage

The disaster has severed road and rail links, destroyed crops and shut down some production of food and drinking water, disrupting the ability of supermarkets in the capital to restock shelves. Conflicting warnings about the severity of the crisis have sparked panic buying of water, eggs and instant noodles.

The government will accelerate imports of food, beverages and household items from Southeast Asian countries after flooding reduced local supply by 40 percent, Permanent Secretary for Commerce Yanyong Phuangrach said.

Don Mueang airport, Bangkok’s second biggest and the site of the government’s flood-relief operations, will be closed until Nov. 1 because of rising floodwaters, Group Captain Kantpat Mangalasiri, the airport’s director, said today.

Nok Air Ltd. suspended all domestic flights until Nov. 1, Chief Executive Officer Patee Sarasin said. Orient Thai Airlines said it will transfer flights to Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok’s main international airport, which is operating normally.

Subway System

The Mass Rapid Transit Authority, which operates Bangkok’s subway, closed 70 of 140 flood-prone entrances, the government’s Public Relations Department said, citing deputy director Ronnachit Yaensaard. Services continued as normal, it said.

Floods may “may pose a danger” to people in nine districts including Lak Si, Don Mueang, Sai Mai, Nong Chok, Minburi, Khan Na Yao, Lat Krabang, Bang Phlat and Thawi Watthana, government spokeswoman Anuttama Amornvivat said. The flood center will reassess the latest threat before deciding whether to issue new warnings, said Pracha, the head of the agency.

Efforts to protect the capital from rising floodwaters is being hampered by tensions between officials who are reinforcing barriers and local residents who want water drained more quickly, Jate Sopitpongstorn, a spokesman for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, said yesterday.

A group of armed men last week destroyed a barrier north of Bangkok after confronting officials who were reinforcing the levee, Jate said, allowing water to flow from Pathum Thani province into Bangkok.

Outside the city’s center, more than 100,000 people are living in about 1,700 government evacuation centers, which can handle as many as 800,000 people, according to the government.

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