Update on Flooding in Bangkok

For more than a week, residents of Bangkok have been bracing for the floodwaters, stacking sandbags and stocking supplies.  With the exception of a few districts which have been hit, most of the city waits in a sort of suspended animation, frustrated by a lack of information and an abundance of government incompetence.

Flooding Rangsit 2011-10-23

To be certain, Thailand’s worst flooding in fifty years has affected parts of the city, especially in the north and northeast near Rangsit, Don Meuang, Sai Mai, and Minburi districts.  But the majority of the city is still dry.  We are told every day that the next few days will be critical.  Each day, the anxiety increases.

Flooding Phatum Thani 002 2011-10-23

Throughout the city, flyovers and expressways became car parks as clever residents decided to park their cars on the only high ground they could find.  The effect, predictably, was that traffic came to a standstill and the movement of emergency vehicles and supplies was hampered. In the picture above, two of the three lanes on the left are actually parked cars.  Yes, I know it looks like a normal traffic jam but in this case the cars are empty.  The government has been pleading with people not to park on the roads, but for some unknown reason has been slow to actually tow the cars.

Flooding Phatum Thani 2011-10-23

Each morning I trade text messages with a friend who lives in the Sathorn district.  “You have any water yet?”  “No, not yet.  You?”  Our messages are a microcosm of the confusion that is frustrating residents across the city.  While the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has done an admirable job and has communicated effectively with residents, the national government led by Yingluck Shinawatra, who wants to be in charge of the flood response, has been a disaster. 


The FROC (Flood Relief Operations Command – they even chose an English name for it!) is accurately depicted in this cartoon.  Different people are working at cross-pusposes and the announcements from different department and ministerial heads contradict and confuse.  A Tweet that has spread like wildfire reads, “The intellectuals fill sandbags while the buffaloes make the plan.”  As you might imagine, the government is seen as the buffaloes, and the comparison is very unfair to buffaloes.


Sunday afternoon I explored my neighborhood, to see how people are preparing.  The number of sandbags have increased markedly since Friday.  I would estimate that about 80% of shops and buildings have built some sort of barriers.  Others (like the one with the blue doors) have not, but that may be because the doors are either watertight or the goods inside are raised off the floor.

Grocery and convenience stores are out of many supplies, including bottled water.  The only bottled water on sale at the local market was Evian, as everything else was sold out. 


I also noticed several buildings taking even more extreme measures, building temporary walls of brick and mortar.  This picture is along Sukhumvit Road between Ekamai and Thong Lor, not an area that I thought was particularly prone to flooding.  I like that they have added steps.  Interestingly, they did not build steps on the other side.  Presumably, once the threat of flooding subsides, they will remove the wall.


Sunday afternoon, I heard that the water gates for Saen Saeb canal, a major east-west artery that is near our condo, had been opened to help ease the flooding in the river and move the water towards the Gulf of Thailand.  Curious, I rode to the canal, only to find the water at its usual level, or perhaps even a little lower than normal.  Canal boat service, which a few days ago had been reported suspended because of high water levels, was running.  Again, another example of lack of clear information.  And this is happening in both English and Thai, mind you.


Back at our condo, a sandbag barrier has been in place for the past ten days.  Our soi (alley) is prone to moderate flooding when there are heavy rains, so the chance of flooding seems higher just by virtue of that fact.  Thankfully, we’ve had four consecutive days of dry weather, but the water elsewhere in Bangkok is presumably still a risk for us.


A view from the inside of the car park, showing how the street is about two feet (70 cm) higher than the car park floor.  Actually, more accurately, the street is only about one foot higher.  The driveway is built to provide a natural barrier, rising a foot from the street before descending two feet into the car park.


Inside the car park, the elevator and electrical room are barricaded with sandbags.  The maintenance team built a brick wall about 40 cm high just inside the electrical room.  I’ve observed that people keep adding to the defenses already in place, leading me to conclude that they know something I don’t.  When I ask them, though, they explain that they don’t know if or when the water is coming, but assume that since there has been no good news (“Water recedes!”), this must be the calm before the storm.


0 thoughts on “Update on Flooding in Bangkok

  1. It’s quite an unusual year when it rained so much, right? I was almost rain-soaked while taking the water bus/taxi on the Chaopraya River. It’s one of the few times being caught in the rain, while taking the boat. That was in June, which was not the rainy seaon!

  2. Such an interesting post on a phenomenon that we don’t have to face in Canada. I wonder, is the Evian that much more priced than other bottled water that it’s still sitting on the shelf? I wonder how long before people snatch it up…?

  3. wow, what a mess! that sounds awful, especially since nobody knows what is going on and i’m sure the tension is getting worse and worse with everyone waiting to see what will happen. hopefully nothing at all happens!

  4. So the funny thing is that when I read Tuesday morning’s paper, it was if the government had heard my complaints and was responding. “The government has no intention of concealing information,” said Prime Minister Yingluck. “We provide the public with regular updates. But too many new factors keep cropping up.”In any case, at least there was a bit more information about why the water seems to be stuck on the north side of the city. There are various problems they are having in their plan to pump the water around the east and west sides of the city. 4,000 million cubic meters of water are supposed to come in from Ayutthaya province tomorrow, but the city has the capability of draining only about 400 million cubic meters per day. Does that mean that the flood will hit tomorrow? Who knows.@brooklyn2028 – The Evian is pricey. My impression was that there was just more of that in the warehouse. The store is doing a “buy 2, get 1 free” promotion, to help ease the pain of the price a bit.@CurryPuffy – This year our rainy season started almost two months early and we reached near capacity in dams and reservoirs quickly. While there are many fingers to be pointed, the irrigation authority did not anticipate the amount of rain and waited too long to start releasing water, and that was a big cause of the problems.@Roadlesstaken – Actually, this is the first major flooding in Bangkok since 1995 and there were very few flyovers or expressways then. Kind of a new phenomenon.@kunhuo42 – @agmhkg – @The_Eyes_Of_A_Painter – @ClimbUpTreesToLookForFish – Thanks for your concerns. Ultimately, there is little we can do other than prepare and wait. The “prepare” part is done, so I guess we turn our attention to “wait”.

  5. Wow. This sounds like an exercise in dealing w/ frustration… Either way I hope the floods recede… but I also hope some accurate info (in English OR Thai!) starts coming your way. Winging a prayer for you and Tawn as I type.

  6. Crazy… this reminds me of when Honolulu flooded also, centered right in my neighborhood. People did the same thing here, and I remember seeing the devastation all around my neighbors. Fortunately, my home was built elevated to allow for flooding, and was the highest point in the neighborhood so the water came up to my top step and stopped. Yet some of my neighbors were completely underwater.

  7. I cannot imagine how confusing it must be from your vantage point. It is confusing from here already. For days now we heard that BKK is bracing for the big flood, but they haven’t come so far.

  8. I’ve been quite worried and thinking of you and Tawn since watching the news about massive flood in Bangkok. Hope you and Tawn are coping with the situation. Keep safe.

  9. My frustration would double – first from wondering when nature will give me a rest and second what is really going on. Inform me at least with the truth. Stay dry!

  10. reminds me of the time when we had a rainstorm in vancouver and the turbidity levels in the water were high enough for people to start buying out the bottled water in the stores…always makes me think of how prepared we are for life’s disasters…hope things return to normal soon!

  11. @jace1982 – Well, and being in Tokyo now I’m sure you know all about the need for preparation!  @RoaminCatholic@revelife – Yes, it is so widespread as to be difficult to comprehend.  Thank you for your comment.@oxyGENE_08 – It seems that the Philippines have had some pretty heavy flooding this year, too, haven’t they?  We saw the images several weeks back.@Fatcat723 – That’s exactly what people are desperate for: accurate information.  The folks in the suburbs received very little warning whereas the folks in the city have been told “it will flood within the next 24 hours” for the last week.@icapillas – Thanks for your concern.  We’ll do everything we can to stay dry.@beowulf222 – Ironically, Otto and Han came up from Singapore for a visit this past weekend, after assurances from me the day before that we had yet to be flooded.@arenadi – Just like your home, houses in Thailand used to be built on stilts/pilings because (surprise!) of frequent floods.  Seems like those who have moved away from that style of building ultimately pay the price.  I actually observed that the new home recently built in the land adjacent to our condo was built on concrete pilings about 1 meter above the ground.  They have closed off the sides so that it appears to be normal construction, but they should actually be fine if there is moderate flooding.@Passionflwr86 – Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.  We wait patiently. 

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