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.
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.
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.
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.