Thailand dismisses fears of flooding replay

Reuters, BANGKOK

Wed, Oct 09, 2013 - Page 15

Floodwater has breached an industrial estate to the east of the Thai capital, stirring fears that foreign and Thai companies face a repeat of the devastation suffered in 2011, but the estate’s operator said water levels were manageable.

Thailand is the world’s largest producer of hard-disk drives and a big supplier of electronic components and car parts.

Flooding in 2011 killed more than 800 people and caused major disruption to industry, cutting economic growth to just 0.1 percent. Global firms, including Apple Inc and Toyota Motor Corp, also faced supply disruptions.

Amata Corp, Thailand’s biggest industrial estate developer, said its industrial park in Chonburi Province, 114km east of Bangkok, was operating normally, despite minor flooding. Chief executive Wikrom Krommadit yesterday said that water up to a height of 15cm had entered the park and accumulated in three areas, but had not hit operations.

“Water levels in the park are stable and all our factories are working as normal,” Wikrom said. “If the situation gets worse, we plan to divide the park in two sections to build a temporary flood way to allow water to flow through.”

He said it was the first time floods had hit the Amata Nakorn estate, spread over 3,020 hectares and home to several companies producing parts for Japanese automakers. Nearly half the factories hail from Japan.

Authorities say the floodwater is moving in a different direction from that in 2011, when water flowed toward Bangkok from Thailand’s north.

“It is heading towards eastern provinces, so there’s a chance that industrial parks that were not hit last time could face flooding this time around,” said Chartchai Promlert, chief of Thailand’s Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.

Floods this year have affected 28 out of 77 Thai provinces and 36 people have been killed, the department says, with more than 3 million people affected since July.

Toyota is weighing up risk-management strategies for one of its three Thai assembly plants, the Ban Pho facility in Chachoengsao Province to the east of Bangkok, a spokesman for the Japanese automaker said.

“Ban Pho is in an at-risk area at the moment, but we believe the plant will be spared from flooding,” he said.

Flooding in 2011 swamped seven industrial estates in Thailand’s central region, but many of the estates hit then say they are better prepared this time.

Rojana Industrial Park said none of its three industrial estates had been affected by flooding this year.

“We’re concerned, but we have built concrete barriers up to 7m high around our estates and we have hired a specialist water management company to update us on weather patterns,” park director Amara Charoengitwattanagun said.

The firm’s industrial park in Ayutthaya Province, 70km from Bangkok, was flooded in 2011, forcing the temporary closure of nearly 200 factories, including one run by Japanese car maker Honda Motor Co Ltd.

Thai Industry Minister Prasert Boonchaisuk said he was confident that industrial estates swamped by floodwater in 2011 would not be affected, partly because rain so far has been less heavy.

“Earthen dikes are in place at estates in Ayutthaya and Pathum Thani province and they have built concrete barriers higher than peak water levels in 2011, but we’re not expecting nearly as much water,” Prasert said.