Last Word on the Flooding

Quick (and hopefully final) update to the flooding situation here in Bangkok:

While the waters have started to slowly recede, many areas on the northern, western, and eastern edges of the city continue to be under a meter or more of water.  This water has been there for, in some cases, nearly a month and has stagnated.  Needless to say, residents of these areas are furious and have taken to tearing openings in some of the sandbag barriers to enable some of the water to more rapidly drain away.

In the past few weeks, what had just been piles of sandbags in the Sukhumvit area (where I live) has turned into more extreme defenses against the likelihood of flooding, a vote of no-confidence in a government that has continued to be incapable of communicating useful information in a timely manner.  Thankfully, by this point it seems unlikely that we will see any water but nobody is removing the defenses yet.

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Outside an office building in the Ploenchit area, two rows of sandbags with a wall of boards sealed at its base with silicone or tar to hold back water.  Of course, vehicles are unable to enter or exit this building so, like many buildings around the city, business is being impacted.

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Along the road leading up to the international airport, mega-sandbags were laid out and pumps installed in case the road itself needed to be turned into a canal to channel the water out of the city.  The airport’s retaining wall was increased to 2.5 meters (almost 9 feet) and, despite having been built in the midst of a natural flood plain, the airport has thus far remained dry. 

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Photo courtesy Bangkok Post

Not so the old airport, Don Meuang, which before the flood was being used as an air force base and for limited domestic service.  It is still closed with more than a meter of water covering the entire airfield.  It will cost millions of dollars and take at least two months to bring this airport back into service.

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As of last week, walls and other barriers were still being constructed.  Here, a view from the inside of the Villa Supermarket near Sukhumvit Soi 33, looking outside to the street.  A wall of concrete blocks and sandbags was built, necessitating a climb over the wall with your groceries.

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The subway stations, exits at a few of which were closed because of the flooding, had flood barriers installed.  These were new additions but were added very quickly that I imagine they must have been prepared in advance and stored for such an event.  I’m unclear why there’s a gap at the corner but I guess they would close it with sandbags?

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Finally, while at Bangkok Hospital this past week, off Phetchaburi Road, I noticed the wide range of flood protection they had put into place, including concrete walls around the base of escalators so water wouldn’t damage the machinery.  Kind of awkward to climb the wobbly wooden steps to get over the wall.  Perhaps it is part of their plan to treat more slip-and-fall patients!

Here is a short video showing some of the other flood preparations at Bangkok Hospital.

As mentioned above, I’m hoping this is the last entry I write on this subject.  The amount of damage and suffering in Thailand has been immense – 594 deaths as of this morning – and yet I’m not sure that there’s anything more I can add to the subject after this point.  I’ll return to other subjects from this point onwards including an update on my attempts at container gardening.

 

Flooding in Thailand

You have perhaps heard that since August, Thailand has been coping with the worst flooding the country has experienced in 50 years.  From the far north in Chiang Mai and other mountainous provinces, through the central plains, and now down to the region closest to the Gulf of Thailand, the country has experienced widespread destruction.  At least 297 people have died, 700,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, and estimates are that the waters could wind up costing the country US$5 billion, or about 1% of GDP. 

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The region currently affected is the southern half of the Central Plains, the rice bowl of Thailand.  Nearly 15 million acres have been flooded, of which 3.4 million acres are farmland.  The above graphic shows flooded areas in light blue.  As you can see, the province of Ayutthaya, home to the ruins of the second capital of the Kingdom of Siam, is the most severely affected.

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Many of the major ruins, temples, and historical sites in Ayutthaya have been affected by flood waters, some areas more than 2 meters deep.  The United Nations is sending teams to help survey the UNESCO World Heritage sites and offer assistance.

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The muddy waters of the Chao Phraya river cannot easily be contained, sweeping into cities and villages along its banks.  Most of central Thailand is low-lying land.  There are signs that those who live upriver from Bangkok feel that their land has been sacrificed in the name of keeping Bangkok safe.  Since the last major flooding in Bangkok in 1995, extensive measures have been put in place to reduce the risk of flooding for the capital.  One of those measure is the deliberate flooding of farmland in the provinces north of the city, the so-called “monkey cheeks” approach.  Without a doubt, the impact of flooding farmland is much less than the impact of flooding major cities.  Nonetheless, that is cold comfort for the familes directly impacted by those policies.

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Unfortunately, the flooding has not been limited to farmland.  Between Ayutthaya and Bangkok lie many industrial parks, home to manufacturing centers for companies from around the globe.  As an example, Honda’s factory, which accounts for some 5% of its global production, was flooded.  Pictured above, new Honda cars sit in the factory’s parking lot, some submerged and others partially floating.

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Fortunately, most of Bangkok has thus far avoided the worst of it.  Some of the northern districts, near the old Don Meuang Airport and Rangsit, have been affected, although not nearly as bad as elsewhere in the country.  Our neighborhood, which is near an area at risk for flooding, is bracing for the next five days or so, until the surge that is coming down the river has safely passed the city. 

A knee-high wall of sandbags has been erected around the base of our condo building.  We have stocked up on bottled water, canned food, and other necessities.  Supplies in the stores are low with many thinly-stocked shelves, a situation caused both by people stockpiling essentials but also because of disruptions in the supply chain.  In fact, Tawn reported today that Starbucks has run out of espresso beans, some cups, and napkins.  That, if anything, must be a sign of how bad it is!  (Only kidding…)

Fortunately, there was no rain today.  But there is an 80% chance of thunderstorms tonight and the rest of week looks stormy.  I hope it gets no worse and, for the more than half of Thai provinces affected by the flooding, that the situation rapidly improves.