Holding Back A Flood

Bangkok braces for high tide on Saturday

October 28, 2011

A Thai boy helps evacuate people from a Bangkok neighborhood near the Chao Praya River.

Heavy monsoon rains and a typhoon have caused the worst flooding in Thailand in more than 50 years. The deluge has swamped seven of the Asian country’s 50 districts, killing nearly 400 people and causing another 110,000 to leave their homes. All that water has been slowly flowing south toward the capital city of Bangkok. It’s there now, and it’s causing big problems.

Potential Problems

Flooding has already closed one of Bangkok's two airports. But the main worry is that the Chao Phraya River, which flows right through the metropolis, will severely flood the city when high tides happen.

Buddhist monks in Bangkok unload sandbags while building a barrier to protect the temple.
Buddhist monks in Bangkok unload sandbags while building a barrier to protect the temple.

Some buildings have already had minor flooding during high tides. The army has had to pump water out of the entranceway to the Grand Palace. The historical monument once was home to Thailand’s kings.

On Saturday, the high tide in Bangkok is expected to be 8.5 feet high. That would top the 8.2-foot-tall floodwalls protecting a large part of the inner city. The floodwalls aren’t meant to handle this much water for this long, and the government is worried that major barriers and dikes could break.

People Preparing

To prepare for possible heavy flooding, dozens of Buddhist monks are creating a barrier around the 200-year-old Temple of the Dawn by stacking hundreds of sandbags. Phramaha Abhin, a 42-year-old monk, said he didn’t think the water would get high enough to cause serious problems, but the monks have to protect the temple just in case the waters do rise. “It's one of the country's landmarks, one of the things Thailand is known for. We have to protect it," Abhin said.

Monks aren’t the only ones getting ready. Bangkok’s residents are stocking up on food and water, and many people have been buying bright orange lifejackets and inflatable boats.

"You have to prepare," said Fon Kanokporn, a banker who bought a rubber boat from a local store. Employees at the shop said they had sold well over 3,000 boats in the last week. Some of the buyers needed the boats to get to their flooded homes outside the capital, because many roads are under water.

Officials say that the flood has already caused $6 billion in damage to the country. But that amount could double if the water floods Bangkok. While the Thais have been able to manage Bangkok’s flooding so far, they may not be able to for much longer. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra expressed that worry on Thursday. "What we're doing today is resisting the force of nature. We cannot resist all of it," she said.

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