News / Asia

Thai PM Warns Swollen River Could Flood Inner Bangkok

A woman and her dogs sit in a boat as they are evacuated from a flooded area in Bangkok October 26, 2011.
A woman and her dogs sit in a boat as they are evacuated from a flooded area in Bangkok October 26, 2011.

Bangkok residents are bracing for rising flood waters that the prime minister says could inundate low-lying areas in the coming days.  Although most of the capital is still dry, the prime minister is urging people near the city’s Chao Phraya River to move to higher ground.

A surge of flood water from the north and east is expected to arrive in Bangkok Thursday, straining the city’s flood barriers and drainage canals.

Thai Navy Deployed

The Thai navy has deployed a fleet of ships to the Chao Praya and other rivers, where they are using their propellers to try to speed the flow of water through the city to the sea.

"It helps a lot. From what I calculated, usually the water in Klong Lat Po is around 500 cubic meters per second," Navy Captain Prasert Chanprapak. With more than 10 vessels here, it can increase the water flow to more than a thousand cubic meters per second."

Chanprapak says with 10 vessels in one location, he believes the flow of water has been doubled.

But Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra says that, despite the navy efforts and constant reinforcement of the embankments, she is no more than 50 percent certain that the city will be spared.

In a televised address Tuesday evening, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announced parts of central Bangkok could soon be under water.

She says, despite efforts to divert and drain flood waters away from the capital, the volume of water is more than they can handle.

She says if flood barriers collapse or the coastal tide is higher than expected, inner Bangkok will be flooded. She says, because  different areas of Bangkok have different heights, flooding in the capital would range in depth from a low of 10 centimeters up to one and a half meters.

One test will be whether flood barriers around the perimeter of the city’s more heavily populated areas can successfully divert flood waters away from the downtown. If the barriers hold, communities outside the dikes are expected to be under as much as 1.5 meters of water.

The other worry is the Chao Phraya River that runs through the heart of the city to the Gulf of Thailand.

Run-off from northern flood waters already has raised the river to its highest level in years.  At high tide during the expected flood surge, Thursday, authorities say the river could rise above flood walls that line its banks, spilling into the city.

The prime minister warned residents living along the river to move to higher ground.

She says the areas of highest risk in Bangkok are those along the Chao Phraya’s banks, including those along and outside of flood prevention walls.

The prime minister’s comments came just hours after flood waters entered Bangkok’s main domestic airport, Don Muang, forcing authorities to cancel all flights.

The airport was also being used as the government’s flood relief and command center and to house thousands of flood evacuees.

They were being evacuated further south, but the prime minister Wednesday said authorities will  continue to use the airport to coordinate flood prevention and relief efforts.

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