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Thailand Flooding Threatens World Heritage Site

Flooded Wat Chai Chaiwattanaram temple in Ayutthaya province, central Thailand, October 4, 2011.
Flooded Wat Chai Chaiwattanaram temple in Ayutthaya province, central Thailand, October 4, 2011.
Daniel Schearf

Floods in Thailand have killed more than 200 people, destroyed farmland, and forced thousands to evacuate low-lying areas near rivers. Surging waters are now threatening a United Nations World Heritage site in the ancient city of Ayutthaya, which officials worry could suffer permanent damage.

Seventy-year-old Chaba is sitting in a blue metal canoe she borrowed and paddling to get home.

She has to duck as the canoe goes under the roof of her two-storey wooden house. The first floor is submerged under three meters of muddy flood water.

Chaba and her 20 relatives now live together on what was the second floor.

For food and water three times a day they have to make their way out of the neighborhood to a nearby relief tent.

They borrow a boat, catch a ride to a makeshift walkway, or wade through the water.

Some families in Chaba’s neighborhood float household appliances to dry ground using chunks of Styrofoam or crude rafts.

She says she has a big family so life is very difficult. She has no boat and had to swim to get here. She says they are almost out of food and there is no drinking water.

Chaba’s is one of hundreds of homes and businesses in Ayutthaya that were submerged after heavy rains burst river banks.

The centuries-old Chaiwattanaram temple lies along the west bank of the Chao Phraya River.

The river flooded and now the temple’s brick spires point out from what appears somewhat like an ancient swimming pool.

Chaiyannand Busayarat is director of the Ayutthaya Historical Park. Looking at the temple from a nearby busy bridge, he says they tried to pump out the water but there was nowhere for it to go.

He says they have stopped doing anything. After the situation is normal they will see how much damage there is and find some long-term measures to prevent this in the future.

The United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, says if the flooding gets worse the historic city’s World Heritage Sites on the other side of the river are at risk.

The U.N. agency has offered Thailand emergency assistance if requested.

A Royal Thai Navy patrol boat runs its engine in Bangkok’s Lad Poe Pier canal.

The grey metal boat is tied to a dock just inside the canal, which has been opened to divert water from the Chao Phraya River to the sea.

The navy has ordered large ships in the canal to run their motors most of the day to help push the waters out to sea.

Vice Admiral Taweewut Pongpipat says they are draining an extra five million cubic meters of water a day from the river.

“If more rain [there] may be the problem, " said Admiral Pongpipat. "Because, if more rain the water will come up. We pray. We pray no more rain.”

But Thai weather forecasters say more rains are expected in the coming days and the situation is likely to only get worse.

 

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