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Friday, October 28, 2011

Bangkok Under Water

I lost count of how many times I've been to Thailand years ago. It's been one of my favorite countries for decades and-- aside from specific Thailand trips-- any time I go to Asia, I always try to spend at least a week in Bangkok or Phuket or Chiang Mai. A few weeks ago we saw how there is a big threat of flooding and of Bangkok sinking into the sea, but we looked at predictions that Bangkok would be underwater by 2030. Looks like the timetable got moved up by two decades!
Severe flooding in Thailand on Friday threatened central areas of Bangkok, a bustling capital barely above sea level and facing inundation at the next high tide predicted at 13 feet.

Residents who decided to stay in their homes despite government pleas to get out waited anxiously to see if the highest tide, forecast for Saturday afternoon, would overwhelm defenses along the Chao Phraya River and its many canals.

Bangkok's outer suburbs were already submerged but the central city had been largely spared the misery Thailand has been suffering for months in the nation's worst flooding since 1942.

...The high tide Saturday, the Red Cross said, will put "extreme pressure" on Bangkok's elaborate system of dikes and other flood defenses.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra ordered work crews Friday to cut channels in roadways to allow faster water drainage, according to the state-run MCOT news agency. But the plan was rejected late in the day in favor of dredging canals and using pumps, the Bangkok Post reported.

Health concerns were rising with the water.

Bangkok residents waded through murky waters without knowing what lurked within, the risk of infection and communicable disease worrying health officials. The government sent out crocodile hunters after reports of crocodiles and snakes in the filthy floodwater.

"We were hearing disturbing reports of dangerous animals such as snakes and crocodiles appearing in the floodwaters and every day we see children playing in the water, bathing or wading through it trying to make their way to dry ground," said Annie Bodmer-Roy, spokeswoman for the humanitarian agency Save the Children.

With the Chao Phraya River overflowing its banks, virtually all the city's best hotels are having flooding problems and the old airport-- mostly used for domestic flights these days-- is also flooded. The main tourist areas (Silom and Sukhumvit) are having serious flooding problems. We're talking about a multi-billion dollar industry. Now we rent an apartment (on the river) when we're in Bangkok but one of the hotels we used to always stay at-- the Shangri-La-- reports that their 70-90% occupancy rate for this time of the year is now down to 30%.

UPDATE: Worst Flooding In Generations

Thais are making the best of it but... what else could they do? The flooding has gotten worse, both around Bangkok and in the city itself. Extensive damage to automotive parts factories, computer parts factories and a major pharmaceuticals center are starting to impact the worldwide supply chain, a quarter of the country's rice crop has been wiped out, and the death toll rises every day.
Thousands of people in Thailand have been living in filthy floodwater for some three months-- the most devastating flood the country has seen in decades caused by unusually heavy monsoon rains. More than 400 people have died in the Thailand floods, and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.

As a protracted battle to stay dry unfolds until the massive pool of stinking water and garbage drains into the Gulf of Thailand, which could take months still, even simple things like disposing of human waste can become complicated.

Tourism is the only thing that's dried up in Bangkok and now it's beginning to impact Phuket and other tourist areas in the southern part of the country. And things could well get worse.

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