Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river swelled to a record high, swamping nearby tourist spots including the Grand Palace as Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra called for fresh ideas to stem the country’s worst floods since 1942.
“The crisis we’re facing today is the most critical natural disaster that ever happened in Thai history,” she told reporters today, adding that she would welcome suggestions from the opposition Democrat party. “I’d like to ask for cooperation from everyone that we don’t have political parties, nor political games. We must not be divided.”
The government is considering cutting channels through five major Bangkok roads to drain floodwaters seeping into northern parts of the capital as a high tide threatens riverside communities. The roads, in the city’s east, are blocking water from reaching canals that drain into the Gulf of Thailand, Transport Minister Sukumpol Suwannatat said.
Uncertainty over the severity of flooding has fueled panic in the capital, leading to shortages of bottled water, eggs and baby formula as the worst floods in more than half a century reach Bangkok. Dikes north of the city are holding back a three-meter-deep wall of water that has inundated about 10,000 factories, disrupting the supply chains of companies including Honda Motor Co. and Western Digital Corp.
Thailand’s central bank today cut its forecast for economic growth this year as the floods take a toll on manufacturing and tourism. Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy may grow 2.6 percent in 2011, down from an earlier forecast of 4.1 percent, and 4.1 percent next year, the Bank of Thailand said today.
Stocks rose after European leaders agreed to expand a bailout fund to stem the region’s debt crisis, with the benchmark SET Index up 1.8 percent at 2:40 p.m. The baht was little changed at 30.56 to the dollar.
The floods may cause about 140 billion baht ($4.6 billion) of financial damage to manufacturers in seven industrial estates, according to the government’s insurance regulator. Japan’s casualty insurers may face about 190 billion yen ($2.5 billion) in net payouts to cover damages from Thailand’s floods, Deutsche Bank AG said in a report yesterday.
The Chao Phraya river running through the middle of Bangkok broke a record by swelling to 2.47 meters above the mean sea level, or 33 centimeters below the government’s main barriers. It is expected to climb to 2.57 meters later today, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration said on its website, and Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra warned communities in 13 districts to watch for flooding. The tide reached 1.28 meters above the mean sea level and may climb to 1.31 meters tomorrow.
Thailand’s government announced a 5-day holiday through Oct. 31 for 21 northern and central provinces to give people time to prepare for flooding. Banks remain open.
"There is no sign that floods will spread all over Bangkok," Sukhumbhand told a group of executives yesterday. “The severity of the problem depends on each area.”
The Grand Palace, about 100 meters (328 feet) from the river, was surrounded by water earlier today, state-run MCOT reported on its website. In 1942 floods, visitors rowed boats past Bangkok landmarks including Democracy Monument, about two kilometers from the palace.
The floods are mainly limited to northern and eastern areas in the capital and low-lying places near canals and rivers. The main business districts of Silom and lower Sukhumvit remained dry, with sandbag barriers protecting many office buildings and shops.
The government may evacuate people in some areas of Bangkok to nearby provinces, Natapanu Nopakun, a spokesman for the government’s Flood Relief Operations Command, said last night. Yingluck has said it could take a month for waters, which have killed 377 people since July, to recede.
“Too much preparation is indeed better than too little,” Natapanu said in a televised briefing last night, expressing appreciation to those who already left town. “It is hoped these measures will lead to caution.”
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport is operating normally and the company that operates the facility is “confident” that it can be protected from flooding, Somchai Sawasdeepon, senior executive vice president of Airports of Thailand Pcl, said yesterday. Malaysia advised against non-essential travel and Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. canceled four flights to as the waters deter visitors.
Don Mueang Airport, which is used mostly for domestic flights, closed after floodwaters reached the runways. Yingluck has used the building to direct flood-relief efforts and provide refuge for about 4,000 evacuees who are being transferred to other locations.
Rainfall about 25 percent more than the 30-year average filled upstream dams to capacity, prompting authorities to release large amounts of water earlier this month down a flood plain the size of Florida, with Bangkok at its bottom tip. Authorities are aiming to drain the water around the city and through its 1,682 canals.
Residents in northern Bangkok caught fish in their homes and ate noodles with their feet resting in ankle-deep floodwaters, television images showed. In some areas, they showed residents capturing escaped crocodiles.
“I suggested that clients leave town because of shortages of drinking water and chaos at supermarkets where people are cleaning out the shelves,” said Sanit Nakajitti, a director at PSA Asia, a Bangkok-based security and risk consulting company. “It’s not a life-threatening situation; it’s more just an inconvenience.”