Traffic clogged roads out of the Thai capital yesterday, as tens of thousands of people fled ahead of a high tide expected to worsen floods that have inundated factories and prompted foreign governments to warn their citizens to stay away.
The main concern is that Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River will burst its banks over the weekend during the unusually high tide that began yesterday. Buildings across Bangkok have been sandbagged for protection, and some vulnerable streets were nearly deserted.
Thailand’s worst flooding in half a century, caused in part by unusually heavy monsoon rain, has killed 377 people since mid-July and disrupted the lives of nearly 2.2 million, until now mostly in the north and central provinces.
TV footage showed cars and trucks bumper-to-bumper leaving the city and the main airport’s departure lounges packed, but the traffic department said it could not put an exact figure on the size of the Bangkok exodus because much of its monitoring equipment was under water.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she was considering a proposal to dig channels into some roads in eastern Bangkok to drain water into the Gulf of Thailand, an idea backed by the chairman of the Thailand unit of Toyota Motor Corp, whose factories have been badly flooded.
“We need to look into several details on whether it works,” Yingluck told reporters.
The Meteorological Department warned residents living along the Chao Phraya they could face rising waters. Roads around the Grand Palace are partially flooded along with some streets in densely populated Chinatown.
Yesterday morning, on a street in front of the Grand Palace normally bustling with tourists, a 2m snake was caught by a motorcycle taxi driver. Residents have also had to contend with crocodiles escaping from flooded farms.
While many of the inner-city streets of Bangkok remained dry, the suburbs continued to struggle.
In the riverside shantytown of Bang Phlad, small wooden homes were knee-deep in foul-smelling water with rubbish floating on the surface. Residents carried belongings above their heads, struggling against the current of water pumped back out to the river.
At the district’s Yanhee hospital, two dozen emergency room doctors and nurses shovelled sand into sacks to fortify a 1m wall protecting the building as water levels rose in a nearby canal brimming with trash.
In Nonthaburi Province bordering Bangkok, walls of sandbags were collapsing under the weight of surging floodwaters. A policeman dressed in shorts, flip-flops and a vest directed traffic on a megaphone as water gushed out of drains.
Yingluck’s government declared a five-day holiday from Thursday to allow people to leave. Roads out of the city to the flood-free south were jammed. Many were heading for the seaside town of Hua Hin and the eastern resort city of Pattaya, where hotel rooms and homes to rent were scarce.
The economic toll continued to pile up across Thailand, Southeast Asia’s biggest auto production hub and a major base for multinational firms, many of which face supply and production disruptions after the floods shuttered at least seven huge industrial estates north of Bangkok.
The Bank of Thailand nearly halved its projection of economic growth this year to 2.6 percent from July’s 4.1 percent estimate, and said the economy would shrink by 1.9 percent sequentially in the December quarter because of the floods.