Thailand Flood 2011

Thailand is facing the worst flooding in more than 50 years. Now the city of Bangkok waits anxiously for the flood waters to arrive ...
 
 Rung leaves her flooded village  
 Rung and her family flee flood in Bang Bua Thong, north of Bangkok  

Living and working in the tropics in a developing country is always an adventure. We love the life here, and it is certainly the best place in the world for fine gemstones. But from time to time we encounter circumstances that make life challenging. It happened last year when political unrest brought hundreds of thousands of people to the street in Silom Rd. near our office and bombs and gunfire were a daily occurrence. This year it is a flood of devastating proportions.

Thailand has a typical tropical climate with monsoon rains that come every summer. This year the rains were particularly heavy, with a series of typhoons sweeping across southeast Asia. All that water eventually has to reach the sea, and it flows south through a series of rivers that empty into the Gulf of Thailand at Bangkok. The peak flow has now reached Bangkok and the city of 10 million people is now trying to cope with a deluge that threatens to inundate most of the city.

 
 
Flooded inustrial estate in Ayutthaya
 Flooded industrial estate in Ayutthaya

The volume of water is so enormous that two thirds of the country has already been flooded. The historic city of Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok, has been flooded meters deep, requiring the evacuation of the entire city. The main industrial centers north of Bangkok have already been flooded, requiring major automotive and electronic plants to shut down. Thailand is not only the world's largest producer of rice and rubber, but the country is the largest producer of hard-disk drives for computers, with more than 25% of the world's productions. This flood will affect the entire world.

Districts in north and east Bangkok have now begun to flood and the water continues its relentless flow southward. Despite sophisticated water management and high flood barriers along the main river, the Chao Phraya, the people of the city now realize that the authorities are fighting a losing battle against nature.

The AJS Gems office is in the heart of the gems district in Silom Road, just a few hundred meters from the Chao Phraya River. The government is making every effort to divert water away from the main business districts, but the walls of sandbags in front of many buildings in our neighborhood indicate the level of anxiety and fear.

As of October 21st we are still waiting for the flood waters to arrive in Silom. The governor of Bangkok is predicting that flooding will begin on Saturday. But our staff has already been affected. Rung, who lives in the northern Bangkok suburbs,has seen the rising flood waters reach her front door. The roads in her neighborhood are now impassable and she is unable to reach the office. Ron is currently in Chanthaburi, not sure if he will be able to get back to Bangkok on the weekend. This morning the government advised all Bangkok residents to move their important belongings to higher floors, as the authorities plan to allow floodwaters to drain to the sea through Bangkok's many canals. 

Update Oct 22nd:  As the floodwaters continue to inundate the northern suburbs of Bangkok, the prime minister announced today that Bangkok must be prepared to endure at least a month of flooding with meter-deep water in many districts as 10 billion cubic meters of water from the north drains to the sea. Thus far 356 people in Thailand have lost their lives in the floods since July, and over 113,000 people are living in temporary shelters after being forced to abandon submerged homes. The labor ministry estimates that 700,000 people have been put out of work. Transportation in Bangkok has been complicated by thousands of cars parked on elevated expressways as drivers try to find a place to safeguard their vehicles. The downtown business district is still dry and most companies are trying to maintain normal business operations if staff can get to work.

Rung wades through the flood waters in Ban Bua Thong
 Rung wades through the floodwaters in Ban Bua Thong

Update Oct 23rd:  The big news today is that Rung and her family have been rescued from the flood and are now safe and sound at Arnold's home in Silom -- 3 adults and 3 very young children.They had to wade through floodwaters for an hour this morning before being rescued by an army truck. After leaving home at 6 am they finally arrived at Arnold's at 2:30 pm. Floodwaters are dirty and dangerous at the best of times, but the Thai floodwaters pose a special danger -- crocodiles. Three large crocs were captured near Rung's house, with more still swimming in the vicinity.

Update Oct 24th:  Bangkok authorities warned that large volumes of water are closing in on six city districts, including areas just north of the city center. The six Bangkok districts of concern include Chatujak, home to a giant weekend market popular with tourists, and Don Mueang, where the city's second largest airport is currently doubling as a flood refuge centre. Another major test is expected between October 28 and 30 when seasonal high tides flow up Bangkok's Chao Phraya river, meeting run-off water from the north.

Update Oct 25th:  The Royal Irrigation department has warned that two huge volumes of water are approaching the city, runoff from the floods in Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani, north of Bangkok. Bangkok residents have been advised to stockpile tapwater in case of contamination of the water supply. Today the government announced a 3 day holiday in all flood affected areas. Schools, businesses and government offices will close Thursday, Friday and Monday (Oct. 27 through 31) to allow the city to prepare for what may be the height of the crisis. The Chao Phraya river that runs through Bangkok reached a height of 2.30 meters on Monday, and is expected to rise during the high tides this weekend. The flood barriers are at 2.50 meters. While flooding in the northern suburbs continues to worsen, the downtown area is still dry and we are continuing to process and ship orders. Arnold announced today that ASJ Gems will donate 10% of all profits to flood relief during the period of the crisis.

Flood close Don Mueang airport
 Flooding closes domestic airport at Don Mueang

Update Oct 26th:  Flooding continues to spread in northern Bangkok. The domestic airport, Don Mueang, was forced to close because of flooding on the runways, and all flights were cancelled. The government's Flood Relief Operations Center is also located at Don Mueang. The Chao Phraya river is now very close to flooding over the 2.5 meter flood barrier and the authorities expect flooding in the central business district in the next 48 hours with seasonal high tides. As of today we are still continuing normal business operations, but we are anticipating 1 meter flooding in Silom Rd. The question for everyone in the gems district is how deep the water will be and how long the floods will last.

Update Oct 27th:  Two more districts in northern Bangkok -- Sai Mai and Lad Prao -- may have to be evacuated due to serious flooding, and the Grand Palace near the river is surrounded by water. Bangkokians have begun to leave the city in droves, most headed for the seaside resorts of Pattaya and Hua Hin, both about 2 hours outside the city. The inner city has not yet flooded, but predictions are that flooding will begin this weekend. 

 Flooding at Saphan Taksin BTS station Oct 28th
 Flooding at Saphan Taksin BTS station Oct 28, 2011

Update Oct 28th:  The flood risk is predicted to peak this weekend with seasonal high tides. The Bangkok Governor today instructed 13 districts located along the banks of the Chao Phraya River to closely monitor the water situation and brace for emergency evacuation. The river's water level will vary from 2.60 to 2.65 meters from Saturday to Monday, higher than the flood barriers of 2.5 meters. We have already begun to see some flooding at Saphan Taksin near our office (see photo). The Flood Relief Operations Center is advising Bangkok residents to plan in moving to upcountry provinces due to a large number of people already at evacuation centers in the city.

Update Oct 29th:  We're halfway through the critical period where high tides and runoff from the north combine to pose the greatest flood risk to the city of Bangkok. Thus far the flood barriers on the east side of the Chao Phraya have held, though parts of the old city -- Chinatown and the Grand Palace -- have experienced flooding. People in Thonburi on the west side of the river have not been so lucky. The entire Thonburi area is expected to be submerged within 3 days. Flooding at the Don Mueang domestic airport is so severe that the Flood Relief Operations Center located there has had to relocate. Silom Rd. continues to be dry and we are hoping for the best over the next few days.

Bangkok Flood Risk

Update Oct 30th:  Bangkok has become two cities -- vast areas of flooded neighborhoods in the north, east and west; and a downtown core that remains dry, protected by high flood barriers. All it would take is a breach in the dikes for the central business district to be flooded 2 meters deep. The Chao Phraya river reached a record high -- 2.53 meters above sea level -- just slightly above the 2.5 meter flood barriers. However, the high seasonal tides have now peaked and authorities advise that that the serious risk of flooding in the inner city would remain for only three more days. The bad news is that only 70% of the runoff from the north can be drained to the sea each day, meaning that the water level in many part of Bangkok is rising by 5 cm a day. So the flooding continues to spread to more areas.

Update Oct 31st:  The Chao Phraya river passed its peak stage today, raising hopes that central Bangkok will be spared the flooding that has affected the suburbs on all sides. The flow of water from the north appears to have stabilized, but floodwaters continue to rise in many parts of Bangkok. Residents in areas outside the flood barriers remain frustrated as the water continues to pour through their streets and into their homes. According to the latest official statistics: 381 people have died, 2.4 million people have been  affected and 26 provinces including Bangkok still flooded. The economic impact will also be enormous. The government is estimating that the economy may expand by only 2.6 percent in 2011, down from an earlier forecast of 4.1 percent.

Update Nov. 7th:  A week ago we had hope that the flood situation in Bangkok would begin to improve after the high tide. In fact the situation has deteriorated significantly, though the central business district is still dry. Thus far evacuations have been ordered for 11 of Bangkok's 50 districts, with partial evaucations in 7 more districts. The leading edge of the floodwaters are now within a few kilometers of the central business district, and are threatening to close some of the northernmost subway stations. The death toll from the flood has now exceeded 500. The distribution of supplies has been severely affected, and there are shortages of bottled water and basic foodstuffs in all of central Thailand, and probably beyond.

Update Dec 1st:  The great flood of 2011 is finally coming to an end. While we were never flooded in Silom Rd, many parts of Bangkok and regions to the north were heavily flooded and even now some neighbourhoods still have 50 cm of water. But all the major streets of the city are dry and the big cleanup is underway. Rung was finally able to move back to her house at the end of November after being flooded for more than a month. Millions of people in the country were affected and the cost to the economy is still being measured, but sure to be in the billions of dollars. This is normally the beginning of the high season for tourism in Thailand, but there are yet very few tourists to be seen in Bangkok.

 

Dear Friends,

I'd like to first thank so many of you for the concern and good wishes sent our way.

As of now the interior of the city is still dry and most things are running normally although tension is in the air and the supermarkets are selling out of the staples.

Our office located on Silom road in the Bangkok gem district. It is about half a mile from the Chao Phraya river, which runs through Bangkok, and then empties into the Gulf of Thailand.

As most of you know a large portion of the country north and east of Bangkok is flooded, many areas have been under 3 to 8 feet of water for many days and in some cases more than a month. This is having a devastating effect on those involved and is a strain on any of the rest of us who have any feelings at all.

My long time friend, office manager, and gem expert in her own right Rung, has been locked inside her house living on the second floor with her family and young daughter for the last 2 days. Although she lives only 45 minutes from the office the flood waters have made it all but impossible to get in or out of her area without a boat, and there are far too few of them. I'm trying to get her family out and hope that she will soon be able to move in with me until this is all over. 

May and I live on the 17th floor of a high rise in Bangkok, just behind the main branch of Bangkok Bank. But as you can see the Bank and most here in Bangkok are expecting the water to rise in the next 24 to 48 hours......

Thanks again for your concern,

Arnold

 

   
   

 

Bangkok Bank sandbags
 Bangkok Bank, Silom Road
 
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