Friday, October 28, 2011

Suvarnabhumi 'safe' from flood, says airport official

Bangkok Post

Suvarnabhumi Airport deputy general manager Suk Puangthum said on Friday he was confident the 23.5-kilometre-dyke could hold back the floodwater from the 32-square-kilometre airport area.

The dyke has been increased in height to 3.5 metres above mean sea level from the previous level of three metres, Wng Cdr Suk said.

The dyke was in sections each 40 to 60 metres long and 2.5 to 3.0 metres deep, and the canal outside was currently only 0.8 metres above sea level.

He added that there were two reservoirs, each only at 25 per cent of its full capacity of four million cubic metres of water.

Airport senior technicians have briefed two senior Japanese officials -- Michio Higashijima, director of international affairs for airport planning and construction at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, and Norifumi Yoshida, chief of airport engineering for the MLIT Civil Aviation Bureau - who have flown in to support the flood-prevention efforts at the country's major international airport. They were also taken on an inspection tour.

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation financed the hundred-billion-baht construction of the airport, completed more than five years ago. The two experts were part of Japan’s flood assistance response.

The embassy's economic minister, Masato Otaka, said the Thai government asked the two experts to look at the overall picture of how the airport could cope with the flood problem now the huge body of water was lapping at its boundaries.

The experts told reporters after the two-hour broiefing and inspection of Suvarnabhumi airport’s pumping stations, reservoirs and power stations that Thai authorities were well-prepared, but the flood crisis was not something that could be precisely predicted. Therefore they needed more time to study the details, particularly the blueprint of the airport lay-out design and other details.

Asked if they were concerned about the internal power supply, the two experts said the airport’s strategic flood-prevention system was the dyke and any water trickling into the airport could be pumped out.

However, “if the electrical control centres malfunction a result of water leaking into the system and the pumps cannot get rid of the water fast enough, the power supply might be affected,” they said.

Asked if the dykes could be a weak point, they said the structure of the compressed-clay dykes, and the height, could handle the flood.

“Other possible concerns might be if the water spills over the dykes and the authorities cannot drain it out in time. However, that is not likely to happen,” they said.

They added that the situation was still fluid and all flood control measures should be evaluated on a daily basis.

The Japanese embassy said the experts had earlier been studying the international airport for two weeks, comparing situations and simulations with past experiences. An on the ground assessment would help them properly support Thai airport authorities in handling the situation.

The Japanese team also went to see Don Mueang airport, which was submerged three days ago, but their main concern is Suvarnabhumi airport.

Suvarnabhumi vice president in charge of the electrical and mechanical department, Amnuay Sarachart, said the airport has been given the same priority as Siriraj Hospital [where His Majesty the King is staying] and that it would be the last place in Thailand to suffer a power blackout.

Executive vice president and deputy general managerNarongchai Tanadchangsaeng said the dyke would make the airport an island when there is flooding, and conceded that if the water level tops the dyke there would be damage.

Don Mueang airport director Kanpat Mangkalasiri said on Friday about 90 per cent of the airport was flooded.

The water level at the country's main domestic airport was 50 centimetres deep. Small vehicles could not enter the airport, he said.

Don Mueang personnel continued to drain water from the airport but the water level continued to rise, he said.

Capt Kanpat said two runways were still operational and the flood had not affected the airport's overall operations.

Officials were closely monitoring the flood situation as the water level on Vibhavadi-Rangsit road was almost equal to the height of the airport's protection wall at about 1.20 metres high, he said.
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