Bangkok breathed easier yesterday as barriers protecting the capital from Thailand’s worst flooding in decades held firm, but authorities ordered a new evacuation north of the city where floodwaters breached defenses of an industrial park.
The nationwide death toll rose to 307, mostly from drowning. Outside the capital, thousands of people remain displaced and hungry residents were struggling to survive in half-submerged towns. On Sunday, the military rescued terrified civilians from the rooftops of flooded buildings in the swamped city of Ayutthaya, one of the country’s hardest-hit.
At the same time, officials were expressing growing optimism that Bangkok would be spared thanks to the capital’s complex system of floodwalls, canals, dikes and underground tunnels that help divert vast pools of runoff south into the Gulf of Thailand.
The Flood Relief Operation Center yesterday ordered all factories at the Nava Nakorn industrial estate in Pathum Thani Province just north of Bangkok to halt work and prepare their workers for evacuation.
The center said there were up to 20,000 people in and around the site, which houses more than 200 factories for both local and international firms.
The order was issued in a live television broadcast after water started to break through makeshift barriers erected the past few days at the estate, which was founded in 1971.
The flood center’s spokesman, Wim Rungwattanajinda, said 200 buses and trucks were ready to take evacuated workers to emergency shelters, including a huge temple complex belonging to the Dhammakaya Buddhist sect that could house as many as 5,000.
At least four other major industrial parks have been inundated, leaving tens of thousands of workers idle and disrupting supply chains, especially in the automotive and electronic industries.
Meanwhile, officials said the economic cost of the disaster would likely be worse than first feared.
Thai Finance Minister Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala said the floods across the country were likely to cut economic growth this year by around 1 to 1.7 percentage points, according to estimates from the Bank of Thailand and the National Economic and Social Development Board.
“The figure is not clear yet but it is likely to be higher than we estimated before,” he said.
The previous estimate was 0.9 percent.
Forecasters at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce have estimated the cost of the floods to the Thai economy at about 150 billion baht (US$4.9 billion), about 1.3 to 1.5 percent of annual GDP.
“We will find healing measures for the economy after the flood recedes,” Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said.
Speaking at the disaster response headquarters at Don Muang Airport in Bangkok, Yingluck apologized for authorities’ inability to protect Nava Nakorn.
Yingluck has asked the country’s military to take charge of the emergency response in five of the kingdom’s worst-hit provinces, including Ayutthaya, which has been under water for over a week.
Thai authorities said water levels were receding in Ayutthaya, which lies about 80km upriver of Bangkok and has seen its ancient World Heritage temples and all five of its industrial estates swamped.
Thai Agriculture minister Theera Wongsamut on Sunday said there were “good signs” that the situation would improve after a large amount of run-off water from the north flowed past Bangkok to the Gulf of Thailand on Saturday.
He added that water levels would be “stable” from now on, easing fears over a seasonal high tide that will make it harder for water to flow out to sea.
The next high tide period will be between Oct. 28 and Oct. 30, officials said.
However, irrigation department director general Chalit Damrongsak said the situation remained critical as water from low-lying areas north of Bangkok still needed to drain to the sea.
“It is not over,” he said when asked about the crisis.
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