Thailand floods: Central Bangkok spared for now – The Diplomat/RTÉ World Report


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Election poster for Chuwit Kamolvisit still up on Lum Lak Wa road on Friday (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

BANGKOK – “We sat on a wall outside, and the army truck picked us up”, recounted Sinyodsai, discussing the day she and her family were rescued from floodwaters at their Rangsit home, in a suburb north of Bangkok.

I met her on Friday in an upstairs hall of a sports complex in the Ramkhamheng university district of Bangkok, which serves as a temporary shelter for almost 2000 Thais made homeless by the floods. The family home was submerged “more than a week ago” according to husband Bancha. Neither 75 year old Bancha nor his 60 year old wife can remember the exact day the flood entered their neighbourhood, which is in the north of Bangkok, but still a 50 kilometer drive from the city centre, an indication of the sheer size of the Thai capital.

In the business and hotel heart of the city, sandbag walls have been going up around buildings, in anticipation of a possible overflow from the network of canals running the city and a high tide backing up on the Chao Praya river, well-known to tourists as site of the city’s best-known temple landmarks.

Some shops have run low on goods, such as drinking water, however, as locals stocked-up, panic-buying should the entire city come under water. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra conceded last week that there was a 50-50 chance that this could happen,but by Saturday afternoon, the inner city had escaped, but with some areas such as Chinatown coming under water as the river burst its banks in places, repeating a cycle from earlier in the week when high tides forced the swollen river into adjoining streets, before water receded again as tides went down.

However in northern suburbs such as Rangsit, and Pathum Thani, miles of residential and business areas have been under water for 1-2 weeks. I travelled through Pathum Thani on Friday, a 5 mile an hour roll though around 7 or 8 miles of flooded streets.

There, the waters had turned a fetid green to black, with rubbish bobbing alongside the sandtruck I shared with over 20 locals ferrying goods to their swamped homes. No wonder disease is now a major concern.

It is even worse outside Bangkok, where satellite images show a city surrounded by floodwaters to the north and the sea to the south, with nowhere apparently for the floodwaters to flow into the Gulf of Thailand but through the city.

Ayutthaya, the old Siamese imperial capital and now site of spectacular temple ruins that are a major tourist draw, has been under water for four weeks now. I visited the

Sinyodsai at the Ramkhamheng evacuation centre (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

town three weeks ago, and it is hard imagine that it could have gotten any worse since then, but according to Ploy, a lady now volunteering at the same shelter where I met Bancha and Sinyodsai, the waters around her house, reached a peak of 4 meters. “They have gone down a meter since”, she said, “but it will take some time before it dries out fully”

She said that she may as well help out at the shelter, after evacuating to Bangkok almost 3 weeks ago. Sinyodsai said that her daughter and son-in-law are also volunteering there. She tried calling them while we sat talking at the shelter, but her daughter’s phone rang off. “It is lunch time now, so she is busy handing out meals”, said Sinyodsai, folding some of the few clothes they managed to salvage before the waters came.

And as the main inner part of the city, escapes the floods, for now at least, the waiting game goes on, as high tides will persist until November 6, according to the Thai Irrigation department. Between now and then it will be a daily dice with slow-moving floodwaters to the north pushing in on the river and canals running through the city, and untold miles of flood barriers thrown up to try prevent an inundation of the sprawling city.

Ankle-deep not far from Bangkok's Grand Palace on Saturday morning (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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