Bangkok is facing a dual threat from a “massive” flow of floodwater from the north and angry residents intent on tearing down defensive walls to save their flooded neighborhoods, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said.
“The dikes can’t resist the massive amount of water and there are also problems with water pumps breaking down,” Yingluck said today in a radio address. “The second problem is groups of residents who live north of the flood gates want the gates to be opened to drain water, but people who live on the other side don’t want their areas to flood.”
Bangkok officials are protecting a network of dikes, canals and sandbag barriers to help divert a slow-moving mass of floodwater around the city center and protect industrial zones east of the city. Thailand’s floods have claimed at least 442 lives since late July and shuttered 10,000 factories in provinces north of Bangkok, disrupting global supply chains.
“We should be able to save most of the areas in the east, including the economic zones,” Yingluck said. “For the west, drainage is quite difficult. People in the west need to be patient.”
A 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) wall of sandbags being completed along a canal north of Bangkok will help ease flooding in eastern parts of the capital, Yingluck said. Rising floodwaters in the city’s northern suburbs yesterday forced the closure of the Central Plaza Ladprao shopping mall, close to the city’s famous Chatuchak weekend market.
“Water has spread to a wide area in Bangkok,” Yingluck said. Efforts to save the city of 9.7 million people are slowing the flow of water to the Gulf of Thailand, 30 kilometers (19 miles) to the south, exacerbating flooding in areas north, east and west of the capital.
Inner Bangkok Dry
Bangkok’s business districts of Silom and lower Sukhumvit Road remain dry and Suvarnabhumi Airport and public transport links are unaffected. The airport’s perimeter is protected by a 3.5-meter-high dike, Airports of Thailand Pcl said yesterday.
“I am confident the airport can operate safely and as normal,” Somchai Sawasdeepon, the company’s senior executive vice president, told reporters in Bangkok. “But we will have a team to monitor the situation 24 hours a day.”
Evacuations have been ordered in almost a quarter of Bangkok’s 50 districts, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration said. An evacuation order for additional areas of Chatuchak and Nong Khen districts was issued yesterday, the BMA said.
The government is balancing the need to protect an area that accounts for about half of Thailand’s industrial output with demands from residents to drain water from parts of outer Bangkok where homes have been inundated for weeks.
Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Pariibatra this week ordered police to protect water gates on canals after local residents tried to destroy them to ease flooding around their homes. Yingluck said today that people who destroy flood barriers may be prosecuted.
“Residents should be aware of the effects of their actions,” Yingluck said. “If people don’t look at the overall picture and only think about their own situation, it will damage the country. I will focus on the national benefit and won’t let any groups obstruct efforts to solve the problem.”
The disaster worsened last month, when rainfall about 40 percent more than the annual average filled dams north of Bangkok to capacity, prompting authorities to release more than 9 billion cubic meters of water down a river basin the size of Florida, with Bangkok at its southern tip.
The deluge spread over 64 of Thailand’s 77 provinces, damaging World Heritage-listed temples in Ayutthaya province, destroying 15 percent of the nation’s rice crop and flooding the homes of almost 10 million people, according to government data.
The floods have already swamped seven industrial parks, halting production at factories operated by companies including Western Digital Corp. and Nidec Corp. Sony Corp.
The Bank of Thailand, which last week slashed its 2011 economic growth forecast to 2.6 percent from 4.1 percent, expects expansion to slow as the global economy weakens and the impact of the nation’s flood crisis increases, according to the minutes of its Oct. 19 meeting.
Rehabilitation efforts have begun in parts of Nakhon Sawan province and will start soon in Ayutthatya as flood waters recede, Yingluck said. The government has an initial budget of more than 100 billion baht ($3.3 billion) to help rebuild damaged areas, she said, adding that Cabinet will discuss new measures to help the economy recover on Nov. 8.
“We can’t lose the battle this time,” Army chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha told reporters yesterday. “If we’re defeated, the damage to the country will be tremendous. Now we’re still fighting, but the enemy is massive.”