Bangkok exodus as floods advance to city centre

Bangkok exodus as floods advance to city centre

Thousands evacuate capital as authorities declare holiday

Water was seeping into central areas of the city of 12 milli­on people, entering the gr­ounds of the Grand Palace after the main Chao Phraya river overflowed at high tide, but most of downtown Bangkok was still dry.

A huge runoff from the north equivalent to almost half a million Olympic swimming pools is expected to reach the capital at the same time as seasonal high tides this weekend, testing the city’s flood defences.

Many residents hunkered do­wn in their homes, surrounded by sandbags or in so­me cases hastily erected concr­ete block walls, after the gover­nment ordered a five-day holiday for 21 provinces including Bangkok from Thursday.

“It’s a crisis, because if we try to resist this massive amount of floodwater, a force of nature, we won’t win,” said a teary-eyed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, facing a major test of her two-month-old leadership.

“But if we allow it to flow freely then people in many areas are prepared,” added the former businesswoman, the sis­ter of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Crowds of people abandoned their homes and headed to areas away from the path of the water, especially to the beach resorts of Hua Hin, Phuket and Pattaya. “All of these destinations are pa­cked with Thais who have mo­ved from Bangkok,” said Tour­ism Authority of Thailand dep­uty chief Sansern Ngaorungsi.

He said domestic flights from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport – the country’s main air hub, which is still operating as normal – were also “very, very packed”.

A steady flow of Thais and foreigners streamed into the capital’s bus terminals as people sought to escape, while Bangkok’s main train station was crowded and roads north and east out of the city were choked. “I saw on the news that the water is getting closer.

Maybe it’s not going to come but I don’t want to take a ch­a­n­ce,” 72-year-old Canadian Cl­aude Kerrignan said as he wa­i­ted to board a bus to Pattaya.

“Many people in my building have left already. Around wh­e­re I live they have sandbags fo­ur feet (1.2 metres) high but if wh­at they say is true it’s going to be higher than that,” he ad­ded.

Government offices, schools and some businesses were shut across Bangkok, where supermarkets have been running low on – and sometimes ratio­n­ing –essential items such as bottled water and eggs as residents stock up.

“For a lot of people right now access to drinking water is one of the concerns,” said Jerry Vel­a­squez, regional coordinator for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, a UN agency.

“Bangkok is still in the early phase,” he added. “This is a once-in-a-100 years-flood. This is intense.” More than 370 people are dead and millions of homes and livelihoods damaged.

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