Thais fighting a losing battle against rising flood in Bangkok

Source: Agencies  |   2011-10-20  |     NEWSPAPER EDITION

The story appears on Page A11
Oct 20, 2011

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Thai Buddhist monks and volunteers help to build an elevated walkway to Ban Kadee temple in Phatum Thani province, north of Bangkok, yesterday. Thai authorities are fighting to save Bangkok from flooding.

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

Hundreds of soldiers and volunteers took part in the effort to save the Nava Nakorn industrial estate after its defenses were first breached over the weekend, but surrender came on Tuesday with an evacuation of all workers.

By nightfall, the entire area - which is home to hundreds of factories and tens of thousands of workers - was covered by water more than a meter deep in places.

It is 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 specialized 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 yesterday morning at nearby Bang Kradee industrial estate, and also in Pathum Thani province, just north of Bangkok. Local authorities in the neighborhood shot flares to warn residents - who do not benefit from the defenses set up for the industrial estate - to evacuate the area.

There were concerns that at least one center to which people from points farther north were being evacuated about a week ago - Thammasat University's suburban campus - might 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 last night to lay down 1.2 million sandbags to protect an especially vulnerable six-kilometer stretch.

Suriya Termchoksap, 39, who took Tuesday off from his job at IBM to help build a dike along a key canal, said: "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."

The deluge began with heavy rains that started in August, with flooding sweeping downstream from the north. The death toll is 317, mostly from drowning, with nearly 9 million people affected and 27 of the country's 77 provinces 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 US$3 billion, 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 rising.

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