Thailand rushes to drain floodwater, protect capital, ahead of royal cremation next week

Villages downstream of dams being filled fast by unusually heavy rains have been bearing the brunt of the floods, which have claimed at least six lives in recent days.
Villages downstream of dams being filled fast by unusually heavy rains have been bearing the brunt of the floods, which have claimed at least six lives in recent days.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK - With a nervous eye on rain clouds, Thai officials are rushing to drain water inundating provinces north of Bangkok while trying to spare the capital the worst of the deluge, with only a week to go before a cremation ceremony for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej next Thursday (oct 26).

Villages downstream of dams being filled fast by unusually heavy rains have been bearing the brunt of the floods, which have claimed at least six lives in recent days.

Houses along the Nam Pong River in northeastern Khon Kaen province were soaked by 1m of water, said state broadcaster NBT. In Ayutthaya, some 70km north of Bangkok, inundation has affected 90,000 people as water flowed beyond areas traditionally used as reservoirs during seasonal floods.

Local residents, piling up sandbags to improvise dykes while wading through knee-deep water, are complaining about skin irritations and damaged crops. Twenty-two of Thailand's 76 provinces - including Chai Nat and Sing Buri in the Chao Phraya River basin - have been flooded in at least one district, according to a report issued by the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) on Thursday (Oct19) morning.

The Thai Meteorological Department warned on Thursday (Oct 19) the "thundershowers, gusty winds and isolated heavy rain" due to hit the northeast from Saturday (Oct 21) would extend to eastern and central Thailand - including Bangkok - by Sunday (oct 22), just before the cremation ceremony in Bangkok for the late king.

Masses of people are expected to turn up for the Oct 26 cremation, which will take place by the Grand Palace near the Chao Phraya River.

RID's director-general Somkiat Prajamwong told The Straits Times water released from a dam upstream will be managed carefully. "We will do all we can to prevent any flood within the Bangkok and prevent any disruption to the royal cremation," he said.

The capital was hit by a flash flood over the weekend after being drenched with rainfall not seen in over 20 years. It triggered a torrent of complaints about Bangkok's drainage system, which is frequently clogged with trash. While Bangkok has stayed mostly dry since, some businesses are lining their shopfronts with sandbags.

Outside Bangkok, rice farmers say they have had to sell their wet crop at steep discounts."We are familiar with seasonal floods which usually come after we harvest in late September, but it came earlier this year," Ayutthaya rice farmer Wichian Puanglamjiag lamented.

Ayutthaya governor Sujin Chaichumsak told The Straits Times that water levels in his province should return to normal in a week. "We have been giving all kinds of aid, like sand bags, medical supplies and security," he said. ""The cost of all the aid is about 200 million baht (S$8.19 million)- not big. People are suffering not because of monetary loss but because of the inconvenience."