Crisis looms as flood waters encircle Bangkok
All of a sudden it’s really starting to feel like a crisis. I just got a call this morning from a friend working for a logistics firm in Bangkok. Companies across the city, he said, have been told to send their employees home at noon (6am UK time).
Schools and universities are now closing: “We’re cancelling classes next week as well,” a professor from the city’s prestigious Chulalongkorn University told me. Bangkok’s elevated freeways now look like giant parking lots as residents stick their most treasured possessions up and out of harms way.
For weeks, Thailand’s elected representatives have been putting the best possible spin on things. Bangkok would be fine they said, as flood waters from central and north Thailand float south towards the city – but they’re not saying that anymore.
I’ve just spoken to a senior adviser involved in the government’s efforts to ‘manage’ this situation and he said the flood barriers which contain the country’s main river, the Chao Phraya, were built 20 years ago and contain numerous ‘weak spots’. Government assumptions based on those flood defences retaining the bulk of the water now heading towards the Gulf of Thailand have had to be discarded.
The total amount of run-off hasn’t changed – estimated at 16bn cubic litres. What has changed radically in the last 36 hours are government predictions about where it is going. Much of that water is now spilling over an elaborate canal system just north of the city. Soon, says my source, the flood waters will slam into a man-made barrier of dykes and sandbag walls which represent the city’s last line of defence for its northern and eastern districts.
With an unwelcome touch of irony, one area at serious risk is the city’s second airport – Don Muang. The national government has set up its Flood Relief Operation Centre (FORC) inside the facility’s domestic terminal. Ministers and their officials may need to invest in some wellies.
The much-criticised Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, has got that issue covered at least. She’s been pictured in a pair of designer Burberry’s.
Postscript: Channel 4 News team is heading north to the Sam Kok district. Last night, the floods overwhelmed the canal where the city gets its tap water and the government’s irrigation department is urgently trying to decontaminate it.