Thai authorities battle against flood

2011-10-19 08:11

Bangkok - Thai authorities were staging a fighting retreat on Wednesday against flood waters that threaten Bangkok, after the country's oldest factory park was completely inundated and a nearby one faced imminent threat.

Hundreds of soldiers and volunteers had taken part in the effort to save the Nava Nakorn industrial estate after its defences were first breached over the weekend, but surrender came on Tuesday with an evacuation of all workers. By nightfall, the entire property - which is home to hundreds of factories and tens of thousands of workers - was covered by water more than a metre deep in places.

It was the fifth major industrial estate to be devastated, together putting as many as 200 000 workers at least temporarily out of a job. Many of the factories are producers of specialised components, such as parts for automobiles and computer hard drives, producing a knock-on effect for manufacturers in other areas unaffected by flooding that are now unable to source needed parts.

Defenders were making a new stand on Wednesday morning at the nearby Bang Kradee industrial estate, also in Pathum Thani province, just north of Bangkok. The state broadcaster MCOT reported that local authorities in the neighbourhood had shot flares to warn residents - who don't benefit from the defences set up for the industrial estate - to evacuate the area.

In another marker of the deteriorating situation, there were concerns that at least one centre to which people from points farther north were being evacuated about a week ago - Thammasat University's suburban campus - might itself have to be abandoned.

Another flash point is Bangkok's Sai Mai district, in the northern city limits, where civilian volunteers have joined soldiers in desperate dike-building efforts after Bangkok's governor delivered a dramatic late-night TV warning that the city had until late Wednesday to lay down 1.2 million sandbags to protect an especially vulnerable 6km stretch.

Heavy rains

"When the governor said we had 48 hours left, I thought we could not just wait until the water arrived, so I took a day off and volunteered," said Suriya Termchoksap, 39, who took Tuesday off from his job at IBM to help build a dike along a key canal.

The deluge began with heavy rains that started in August, with flooding sweeping slowly downstream from the north. The death toll is 317, mostly from drowning, with nearly nine million people affected and 27 of the country’s 77 provinces still inundated.

In addition to the damage to stores and factories, hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland have been damaged. Initial estimates of the economic costs were $3bn, but have since been rising.

On Tuesday, the Royal Irrigation Department advised residents in districts east of Bangkok near Suvarnabhumi Airport, the country's main international gateway, to secure their homes with sandbags and move valuables to upper floors because water levels there were rapidly rising.

A department spokesperson stressed that the airport itself was not threatened because it was well-protected.

Bangkok's other airport at Don Muang, north of Bangkok, is in another area where floods threaten but is also believed to be safe for now. However, the Thai air force, which maintains a base there, said it has moved about 20 planes to other bases as a precaution.

About 10 aircraft have stayed to carry out flood relief missions, but they also may need to be moved if the situation worsens, Air Force spokesperson Air Vice Marshal Montol Suchukorn said.