Thursday, October 27, 2011

All eyes on Bangkok's flood barriers as new wave arrives today

The Nation October 27, 2011 4:04 am
All eyes on Bangkok's flood barriers as new wave arrives today

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra warned yesterday that there was a 50/50 chance that much of Bangkok would be inundated in the coming days but insisted that Suvarnabhumi Airport would not be flooded.

The prime minister said new factors were compounding the seriousness of the situation and it would be hard to fend off all the flood water from Bangkok. She insisted, however, that the government was making urgent efforts to drain the water away from the capital.

"What we're doing today is to try to delay [flood water] so it will not burst into Bangkok to the point where people have no time to prepare," she said.

Asked whether all areas of Bangkok would be flooded, the prime minister said it would depend on how the major dykes and barriers in the east, north and west of the city fare. In the worstcase scenario - barriers in all three directions failing - all of Bangkok would flood, but with different areas experiencing water levels between 10 centimetres to more than a metre. Elevated expressways and tollways would thus still be able to function, Yingluck stressed.

She ordered flood defences at three spots around the capital be reinforced, but decided not to relocate the Flood Relief Operation Centre (FROC) from Don Mueang Airport despite rising water levels at and around the airport. If relocation is eventually made necessary, she added, it would not be to Chon Buri province as speculated, but to another location in the capital.

"The FROC can remain at Don Mueang because it has the [connecting] Don Muang Tollway," she said. "Other more suitable places are being looked into, however."

The prime minister said evacuees were free to return to their home provinces if they wished to do so. Breached floodwalls, such as the one in Muang Ake residential estate just north of Bangkok, are being fixed with large sandbags, though leakage and breaches continue to be a problem elsewhere.

She also reiterated that the FROC was committed to giving full and accurate information to the public. As for problems facing the floodprevention effort, Yingluck said sand was running out despite the fact that in some provinces, soccer pitches have been dug up for sand. "We're now trying to get sand from other provinces."

Yingluck pleaded for understanding from all parties, saying that nobody had predicted the mass of water would be this big and that it would travel so fast.

"Within one day, water will definitely arrive. Residents living close to the [Chao Phraya] river, please evacuate within three hours" of this warning.

"Do not be complacent," she warned.

The prime minister added that flood waters were forecast to remain in the city for two weeks to a month but that the situation would not be as severe as in many other provinces, some of which have endured higher floods for two or three months.

FROC chief Pracha Promnok led a meeting of concerned agencies yesterday to discuss measures to deal with a worse case scenario for Bangkok flooding. These included issuing warnings, and evacuating people to Kanchanaburi, Suphan Buri, Ratchaburi, Petchaburi, Chon Buri and Nakhon Ratchasima. The FROC committed to providing transport for people evacuating to flood relief centres in these provinces.
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