Confusion reigns as Thai capital braces for floods

Fear and confusion gripped Bangkok today as anxious residents grappled with mixed messages over whether Thailand's worst floods in half a century would overwhelm the intricate defenses of the low-lying metropolis of 9 million people.

The government sought to reassure residents the capital would be spared, noting that much of it stands behind a sturdy system of flood walls, dams and dikes that have been reinforced in recent days. The deluge has submerged entire towns across the country's central plains, devastated rice crops and shuttered hundreds of factories.



"I insist that the floods will only affect outer Bangkok and will not be widespread in other areas," Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Friday.



Authorities have for days been warning that the flooding has reached crisis levels and that waters rushing from the north could combine with rains and high tides in the next few days to flood the capital. Some have said the rush of water would be so strong that authorities would be left with little choice but to watch the city drown.



But the message hasn't always been clear, with some agencies, departments and officials contradicting others, sometimes in the same news conference.



Yingluck visited a key part of Bangkok's defenses Friday just north of the city in Rangsit. There, military personnel and hundreds of volunteers raced to stack thousands of white sandbags along the walls of a canal gushing with runoff from the central plains to the north.



Troy Pannavaj, a 32-year-old volunteer, said authorities were trying to pump as much water as possible into the Chao Phraya River — which snakes through the capital and into the sea — before high tides or heavy rains over the weekend slow the outflow. "If these barriers break," Pannavaj said, "this water will rush through Bangkok very fast."



In another town north of Samkhok, also in Pathum Thani province, flood waters from the north breached a wall of white sandbags several dozen miles (kilometers) long, submerging Buddhist temples, homes and factories.



When soldiers were deployed to set up a new barrier in the middle of a main road in the town center, scuffles broke out between troops and angry residents who wanted to let the water run toward Bangkok, said Wasan Leekmeg, a local politician.



Some residents tried to remove the sandbags fortifying the wall. Rising waters eventually swamped the barrier, and "the soldiers gave up trying to protect it and started evacuating people," Wasan said.



"The problem is, the water keeps rising, and nobody knows how bad it's going to get," said Wasan, who spent the last few days ferrying supplies to desperate businesses and families on a wooden canoe — one of the only reliable ways to navigate the town.



Erroneous reports Thursday said flood waters had broken through another key flood gate in Pathum Thani, leading one government minister to order residents in the area to urgently evacuate. The government later apologized for the "misinformation," saying the evacuation order had been reversed and that damage to the gate had been overestimated.



The conflicting information has left many Bangkok residents scratching their heads and wondering whether their neighborhoods are truly at risk — and if so how best to prepare. Many have been stocking up on bottled water, rice, instant noodles, medicine and other essentials, leading to shortages in some areas. Others have moved their cars to higher ground in parking garages in the city's malls.



Buildings in many areas of the capital have stockpiled sandbags, while others have built protective walls from cement and cinderblocks. The city's subway system was rushing to install steel flood barriers.



"To be frank, I don't really know what's going to happen to Bangkok," said 26-year-old Kuealapat Atsawasiramanee, whose family home is about a half mile (a kilometer) from the Chao Phraya River. "Is it going to be flooded or not, I'm not really sure. There are many pieces of information and news out there and I just don't know what to believe."



"If it's going to flood, the government simply needs to say so. Don't conceal the truth, because that will only lead to more panic."



The confusion hasn't been limited to Bangkok.



A Japanese trade organization on Friday blasted the government for allegedly failing to provide timely and accurate information about the situation in the central province of Ayutthaya, where hundreds of factories have been devastated.



Seiya Sukegawa of the Japan External Trade Organization Thailand said much of the information released by the government before floodwaters hit the area was late, contradictory or difficult to understand because it was not in English.



"Japanese companies didn't know what was happening or which information was true or not," he said. "They received warnings but not enough information and not enough time to decide the next step."



He said more than 300 Japanese-owned factories — including electronics makers and automotive parts suppliers — were damaged or destroyed by flooding.



Sukegawa also complained that the Thai government was doing nothing to help companies reach their factories to salvage whatever equipment and technology remained undamaged.



Not just factories and humans were affected in Ayutthaya. About 100 elephants were forced to flee to higher ground and are facing food shortages as well as possible foot diseases because of the wet conditions, officials said.



Chusit Apirumanekul, a hydrologist at the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, sympathized with the difficulties facing the government, saying the unpredictable nature of weather makes it impossible to forecast the flood threat with certainty.



"I think this is quite normal in every country when you have this kind of warning, forecasting, you cannot say that it will happen or it will not happen 100 percent," he said.



Yingluck said Friday that her government would adjust its methods of informing the public and that official information would only be released by the director of the Flood Relief Center.



Near the northern edge of Bangkok's city limits, Somjai Tpientong wondered whether the nearby sandbag wall protecting Rangsit and Bangkok would hold up.



"If the water comes I'll have to let it happen. There's no way I can block it. For me, I'll move to an upper floor," she said. "I feel sorry for the people in lower-lying areas."



Some 8.2 million people in 61 out of Thailand's 77 provinces have been affected by the flooding, which has killed at least 283 people since late July.

AP

News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
scienceHad asteroid hit earlier or later in history, the creatures might have survived, say scientists
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
scienceBumping fists rather than shaking hands could reduce the spread of infectious diseases, it is claimed
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PHP / MySQL Developer (PHP, MySQL, AJAX, JQuery, MVC, HTML, XML

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: PHP / MySQL Developer (PHP, MySQL...

C# Back-End Developer (C#, .NET, ASP.NET, SQL, MVC-4, TDD, BDD)

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C# Back-End Developer (C#, .NET, ...

Web Developer (C#, HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, JQuery, XML) London

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Web Developer (C#, HTML5, CSS3, J...

C# Software Developer (C#, front-end, Java, JavaScript, VB)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C# Software Developer (C#, front-...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried