As Thailand’s floodwaters continue their slow journey to the sea, large swaths of the country have drained and dried, leaving behind a stinky, thick grime on everything touched by the nation’s worst deluge in more than a half century.
In many areas, people are returning to their houses armed with cleaning brushes, rubber gloves and masks to endure the sewer-like stench. However, others whose homes are still inundated, say that they have been forgotten, especially by residents of the capital who escaped the flooding.
Nicha Rakpanichmanee, a 28-year-old graduate student, invited a group of friends to help clean her town house on Bangkok’s northern edge.
“I didn’t expect it to be like this ... the smell,” she said.
Room by room, the cleaning team sprinkled disinfectant powder on everything covered by the thick filthy film, which spread 80cm high during the three weeks Nicha’s neighborhood was inundated. Other parts of Thailand were covered by more than 2m of water for two months.
Just down the street, her neighbors were not as lucky.
“We haven’t even started cleaning yet. We’re just throwing things out. We’ve been throwing stuff out for three days now,” said Yai Kupatanorrat, 50, who sells women’s clothes at the popular Chatuchak weekend market.
He threw out several bags and boxes of new clothes that he had stored at his home, as well as cabinets and other furniture.
More than a fifth of the country’s 64 million people have been affected by the flooding, which began in late July, and more than 600 have died. Fifteen provinces remain flooded.
The World Bank estimates the damage at US$45 billion and recovery and reconstruction needs at US$25 billion. The National Social and Economic Development Board has slashed Thailand’s economic growth forecast to 1.5 percent from 3.5 percent to 4 percent.
Several industrial estates in Ayutthaya and Pathum Thani provinces were severely flooded, bringing the country’s key automotive and computer parts industries close to a halt. Authorities in Ayutthaya say four industrial parks there have been cleaned up, while another is still under 50cm of water. In Pathum Thani, two industrial estates remain flooded.
Much of the government’s effort to fight the floods has focused on protecting the capital, which has remained largely dry thanks to hundreds of pumps and dikes built of sandbags. Across the dikes, residents outside the metropolitan area say they were sacrificed and now are forgotten.
“When I talk to people who aren’t affected, they say: ‘Oh, no one’s talking about the floods anymore,’ but my house has been flooded for nearly two months,” said Chalanthorn Reaud, 32, a cultural officer for the Alliance Francaise of Bangkok.
The 300 homes in her housing estate in Nonthaburi province, next to Bangkok, are still flooded with more than 80cm of water.
Sirinuch Jungtamdeerungkajorn, a 35-year-old pastry chef who also lives in the capital’s still-flooded outskirts, is staying with her parents in a rented condominium in Bangkok’s central business district.
The main road that leads to her neighborhood is dry, but on her street the water is still 50cm deep.
“People who don’t live here think it’s not flooded anymore,” she said. “But it’s going to be some time before my life will return to normal.”