Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra moved yesterday to reassure Bangkok’s 12 million residents over a looming flood crisis, after one of her ministers briefly sparked panic with an evacuation warning.
Thai Science Minister Suraswadi Plodprasop rushed out of a flood briefing late on Thursday to say that several areas in Bangkok’s northern suburbs were at risk of being submerged by up to 1m of water after a dyke burst.
However, the authorities quickly backtracked, causing confusion among residents who have been braced for floodwaters to reach the capital after causing havoc across northern and central Thailand, leaving at least 289 people dead.
Shinawatra said yesterday that the situation was under control.
“The water level is stable and not increasing. So I would like to ask people not to panic,” she told reporters.
“Minister Prodprasop wanted to update the people about the situation because he was concerned that they were anxious about it,” Shinawatra said. “So he reported the possibility of what might happen to the people, and nothing happened. Everything was normal.”
Some residents in the affected areas rushed to move their belongings to higher ground after the warning.
In the Bangkok suburb of Saimai, local authorities received hundreds of phone calls from concerned residents, district chief Nongpanga Boonpaksa said by telephone.
“After last night’s announcement people in Saimai were panicky. There were some frantic traffic jams in our district because people were trying to move their cars to higher places, but the situation later returned normal,” she said.
About 110,000 people around the country have sought refuge in shelters in the face of floods that have destroyed crops, inundated hundreds of factories and damaged the homes and livelihoods of millions of people.
Currently 26 out of 77 provinces are affected, but conditions in inner Bangkok and at most of Thailand’s top tourist destinations are normal.
However, the capital is bracing for a large amount of run-off water to reach the city along with seasonal high tides that will make it harder for the flood waters to flow out to sea.
Sandbags have been piled in front of homes and businesses in preparation for possible inundation, while some residents have opted to leave their vehicles in multi-story carparks in the city to avoid possible flooding.
Central Bangkok is protected by flood walls and the authorities have piled sandbags along the Chao Phraya River to try to keep water out of nearby areas, whose residents are no strangers to seasonal floods.
The authorities have said they woul dredge and drain canals in the capital to allow more water to flow through.
The floods have dealt a heavy blow to Thailand’s economy, leaving hundreds of factories under water.
The ancient city of Ayutthaya, about 80km upriver of Bangkok, has been badly affected and the UN cultural organization UNESCO said it would launch a mission to the World Heritage site to assess the impact.
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