Thai PM Hopes Flood Drainage Can Be Sped Up

By THANYARAT DOKSONE | November 1, 2011

Thailand’s prime minister said Monday that she hopes the process of draining floodwater through Bangkok can be sped up now that peak high tides that saw the city’s main waterway rise to record levels have passed.

Higher than normal tides pushing up the Chao Phraya River from the Gulf of Thailand in recent days have complicated efforts to drain the floodwater that has been surging through the city as it makes its way from provinces that have been submerged and suffering for up to two months.

The runoff from the country’s worst flooding in more than a half-century has put extreme pressure on the pumps, sandbags and dikes protecting Bangkok, though they have largely held and most of the capital remained dry.

“If there is no more additional water, the current runoff might not cause heavy flooding in Bangkok,” Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said, though she noted there was still a massive amount of water that needs to pass through the capital’s complex network of rivers, canals and tunnels as it makes its way to the sea.

While that will come as welcome news to people in Bangkok’s dry downtown core who had been bracing for possible flooding all weekend, it will be little relief to those in the city’s far north and west who have seen floodwaters rise and spread.

Fifteen of the Bangkok’s 50 districts have now seen flooding, and people in six districts have been told to evacuate.

“The water that came in our neighborhood was massive and had immense power,” said 29-year-old Yibporn Ratanawit, who lives in Thonburi on the Chao Phraya’s western bank. “As we were stepping out of our gate to evacuate, one of our walls totally collapsed to the neighbor’s side and the water rushed into their house. It was like a nightmare.”

“I think the Thonburi side will all be gone eventually because the water has not stopped rising,” she said.

While much of the government’s attention in recent days has been focused on protecting Bangkok, Thailand’s political and economic heart, there have been growing complaints that those in areas north of the capital, some of whom have been underwater for weeks or months, have been forgotten.

Yingluck sought to address those concerns Monday with a post on her Facebook page.

“The government is concerned about every individual who has experienced flooding, as well as those facing a lengthy period of floods,” she said. “The government has emphasized with the provincial governors to exhaustively take care of the people.”

The floods, which began in late July and were exacerbated by heavier than usual monsoon rains and a string of tropical storms, have killed 381 people and affected more than a third of the country’s provinces. The water has destroyed millions of acres (hectares) of crops and forced thousands of factories to close.

(Associated Press writer Vee Intarakratug contributed to this report.)

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