ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
6 p.m.-Bangkok time
One week after Thailand's new Prime Minister declared Bangkok would be safe from record-breaking floods ravaging the country, residents of the Thai capital were bracing Thursday for what appeared to be an inevitable inundation as water from northern and central provinces continued surging down the Chao Phraya river.
Sandbags were piled outside homes, offices and shopping malls in still-dry central Bangkok, as bottled water and other essentials flew off shelves at supermarkets and convenience stores around town. Outlying northern and eastern areas of the city were already under water. Bangkok Governor Sukhumband Paribatr warned that a massive run-off would hit Rangsit, a northern suburb of the city, on Thursday evening, with another surge of flood water to follow on Friday night down the Chao Phraya. Soldiers, city workers and neighborhood volunteers were out in force doing their best to shore up flood walls and dykes, some of which were reportedly near their breaking points or close to overflowing. (See photos of flooding in Thailand.)
Meanwhile, bickering between elected officials marred relief efforts. Opinion polls have panned the national government's efforts at managing the crisis, and Bangkok Governor Sukhumband urged people in the capital to ignore the national government's statements and listen only to him. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, elected in July, responded today by saying she and her team "are doing all we can to handle the situation. Let's set aside politics. I need cooperation from all sides.''
The worst flooding to hit Thailand in decades has killed 315 people and affected over 2.4 million in at least 26 of the country's 76 provinces, according to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Homes, farmland and industrial estates have been washed away or submerged. The Bank of Thailand predicts the damage could drive down gross domestic product by as much as 1.7 percent for the year, leave untold numbers of people homeless, hundreds of thousands of workers temporarily unemployed, and drive up food price inflation as crops, and especially parts of the rice crop, are destroyed.
Neighboring countries have also been suffering during this particularly heavy Southeast Asian monsoon season. With the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers also swelling, 247 people have perished in Cambodia and 1.2 million people have been affected, 55 have died in Viet Nam and 330,000 affected, and 30 were killed in Laos and 430,000 affected. The monsoons have also triggered floods as far away as the Philippines, where 98 have died and four million have been affected, and Pakistan where hundreds have died and nearly five million affected. (See the top 10 environmental disasters.)
The image of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her government have also suffered during the disaster. In office for just over two months and with no prior political experience, her management skills have come under fire from critics and the media. In an opinion poll conducted by Assumption University, respondents gave the government a score of 3.3 out of 10 as far as managing the crisis and giving clear information to the public. Her ministers have issued at least two false alarms to evacuate that sent thousands of people fleeing unnecessarily, while assuring certain areas they were safe which later flooded. "You can't believe anything they say until you see the flood waters at your own feet,'' said Rin Minckler, a spa owner in Nonthaburi, just north of Bangkok, who was moving furniture and equipment to higher floors.
Although Prime Minister Yingluck has been working around the clock — she appeared on television at 4 a.m. Thursday — she's been lampooned by political cartoonists and others after being photographed wearing expensive Burberry rain boots while touring flooded neighborhoods populated mainly by poor people. Minister of Commerce Kittirat na Ranong, stoic as the farm land and homes of Thais were destroyed, was filmed breaking down in tears in the arms of a Japanese investor whose factory had been damaged. Foreign investors have said the government must come up with a long-term plan to prevent future flooding if Thailand is to remain a hub for manufacturing.
Opposition politicians have urged the Prime Minister to invoke a state of emergency, but the government has resisted, as it would mean sharing emergency powers with military leaders and other security officials. Relations between the government and the military are tense, as ruling politicians have been pushing to amend laws in order to give them greater power over appointments and promotions in the armed forces
Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand Governor Sutas Patamasiriwat today assured all of power stability, despite the higher water levels that are threatening power plants and transmission in several areas.
In preparation for a worse condition, Egat has coordinated with the Metropolitan Electricity Authority and Provincial Electricity Authority on the adjustment in high-voltage power transmission. Four high-voltage stations in Rangsit, Sai Noi, Nong Chok and On Nuj are expected to be affected by the floods. Barriers are put around the premises while all equipment is lifted 90cm above ground. If water level is higher than that, the transmission would be handled by other stations.
He noted that the Rangsit station is now beseiged, following the collapse of Nava Nakorn Industrial Estate’s dykes. The Chaeng Wattana and Lat Phrao transmission stations are now taking over the Rangsit’s capacity.
"EGAT is closely watching the situation of high-risk area, the Sai Noi station, which transmits 195MW. The station is surrounded by water and flash flood could take place if the community’s 3-metre earthen dyke collapses," he said.
If anything happens, the transmission would be transferred to the Chaeng Wattana and Angthong stations.
Good news is Bangkok’s power demand falls by 440MW following the floods.
Sutas also insisted that it is necessary for Bhumibhol Dam to further release water by 60 million cubic metres a day, as the water level is surpassing its capacity. He noted that the dam’s water level is 99.01 percent of its capacity. If new supply drops, Egat will consider downsizing the release volume.
Toyota Motor Thailand today announced that it would further suspend the operations at all three plants as floods still ravage some automotive components suppliers.
The plants in Samut Prakan and Chachoengsao would remain closed until October 28, the company said in a statement. They have been suspended since October 12.
More districts in the north of the Thai capital have been told to brace for flooding as water begins to drain through the city's canals to the sea.
On Thursday the government opened several floodgates due to a build-up of water to the north of Bangkok.
It urged residents to move their belongings to higher floors but cautioned against panic. Thailand is facing its worst floods in decades with more than 340 people dead and a third of all provinces inundated.
Three months of heavy monsoon rain have left swathes of the country flooded. Northern and central areas were worst hit initially but now the run-off is draining south to the sea, threatening Bangkok.
The capital is protected by floodgates, and barriers in key areas have been reinforced with sandbags.
But with suburbs to the north of the city now under water, the government was forced to open some of the floodgates on Thursday.
The authorities want to drain the water to the east and west of the city, avoiding the central hub.
The BBC's Rachel Harvey, in Bangkok, says the move is a change of tactic for the government - and no-one seems entirely sure whether the volume of water can be safely controlled.
"I ask all Bangkok residents to move your belongings to higher ground as a precaution, but they should not panic. It's preparation," Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said.
"We will rapidly assess the situation and regularly inform the public."
Reports said water had flooded homes in the Lak Si district, along a key canal in the north of the city.
Our correspondent says that there is growing concern in the capital after confused, sometimes contradictory, messages from the authorities.
Some shops have reported a flurry of panic buying, while bridges and flyovers have been blocked with parked cars.
The flooding has already taken a toll on the economy, with several industrial parks to the north of Bangkok under water. About 1,000 factories have had to close.
On Thursday, the central bank said the damage to industry amounted to over 100bn baht ($3.3bn; £2.1bn).
Analysts have warned that growth this year could be up to two percentage points less than the 4.1% forecast if Bangkok is flooded.
The tourism industry has so far been largely unaffected, with southern islands escaping the flooding. The main international airport is operating as normal and its flood defences have been fortified.
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