THE GOVERNOR OF Bangkok has issued a dramatic warning to residents of the Thai capital to prepare for floodwaters to roll deeper into the city from suburban areas already choking under the deluge.
In live televised remarks late yesterday, Gov Sukhumbhand Paribatra said a massive amount of water was expected to flood the Don Muang area just north of the city proper – where Bangkok’s old airport is located and now being used as headquarters for the anti-flood effort and a shelter for evacuees.
Today, water flooded traffic lanes near Don Muang airport, though one lane was still passable. Thai television showed residents in the area leaving their houses with luggage. Air operations were normal there, however, as well as at Bangkok’s main international airport on the other side of the city.
Sukhumbhand said the water would threaten five other districts as well as it barrels toward the city’s more developed areas. On the warning list was the Chatuchak district, popular with tourists and locals both for its “Weekend Market” of handicrafts and myriad other wares.
“Now all indications point to only one conclusion: a critical problem will happen,” Sukhumbhand said. He said residents of the six districts should move their belongings to higher ground, and the sick and elderly should be evacuated to shelters set up by the city. There was no indication that the capital’s inner city residential and business districts were yet at risk.
Sukhumbhand’s warning stood in stark contrast to general reassurances given earlier in the day by the Flood Relief Operations Centre of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. It announced that the situation was under control and could be expected to improve.
The anti-flood agency had said earlier Sunday that the threat that floodwaters inundating Thailand’s capital could ease by early November as record-high levels in the river carrying torrents of water downstream from the country’s north begin to decline.
But with the authorities battling the waters north, east and west of the city proper, it was clear that Bangkok’s immediate prospects remained uncertain. Off a highway heading north of the city, Associated Press reporters found people scrambling for safety in flooded streets.
Mothers walked in hip-high water with children strapped to their backs, while other people waded through the murky water holding belongings in plastic bags atop their heads.
In Nonthaburi province, just north of Bangkok, a 7ft crocodile was captured while resting on dry land outside a restaurant, presumably after pulling itself out of the surrounding floodwaters. Thai television showed the beast, which had reportedly escaped from a farm, with its snout taped shut and its scaly body covering most of a boat that was carrying it away.
In the city and its environs, residents have settled into a routine of waiting and worrying. Many are hoarding supplies, and supermarket shelves have emptied faster than they can be restocked. Bottled water, batteries and canned food were among the first items to go.
At a supermarket in central Bangkok’s business district – which is not under immediate threat – sandbags lined both entrances Sunday, forcing shoppers to step over to go inside. Many of the shelves were bare, with the handful of shoppers inside grabbing the few snacks that were left. Cat food and toilet paper were gone.
While larger stores in Bangkok have kept their prices fixed, smaller merchants were raising theirs in the flooded zones north of the city. A Rangsit resident, Taweetit Hongsang, complained that the price of a papaya, 10 baht (33 cents) a week ago, had shot up to 30 baht ($1).
The desperate battle to route the water away from the city has led to several conflicts in which people have used force to try to protect their own neighborhoods by removing flood barriers.
The flooding that began in August in northern Thailand has killed 356 people so far. Cambodia, Thailand’s eastern neighbor, has also suffered with more than 240 people killed.