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Rising Floodwaters Force Thousands to Flee Bangkok

October 27, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: The heart of Bangkok, Thailand, braced for an inundation of floodwaters today. The prime minister acknowledged the dikes around the city may not hold.

John Sparks of Independent Television News reports from Bangkok.

JOHN SPARKS: The scourge of the countryside has entered the city and rolled right up to the palace gates. Floodwaters from the north have furthered their advance, and nothing and no one is sacred. The city’s sophisticated residents got their feet wet this morning, an unpleasant surprise from an unwelcome guest.

WOMAN (through translator): It came up really fast. It was dry early this morning. Now the whole street is flooded.

JOHN SPARKS: Twenty-three of Bangkok’s 50 districts have now succumbed to the waters, their streets filled with waders and improvised rafts and army trucks packed with evacuees — 50,000 troops have been moved into the city, but Thailand’s army chief told us it’s not enough.

GENERAL PRAYUTH CHAN-OCHA, Army chief, Thailand (through translator): Many people are suffering, and we’re doing what we can. But the most important thing to say is that the people will have to be patient.

JOHN SPARKS: She says she’s doing her best. The country’s inexperienced prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, conferring with advisers this morning. Later, she appeared shaken and close to tears. A reporter asked, “Are you crying?”

She denied it. “No, I haven’t cried at all,” she replied.

Today marked the first of a five-day special holiday here, this an opportunity to escape. The government has urged residents to leave the city. They can’t depart from Bangkok’s second airport, however. Don Muang International has been flooded out.

Unless you have got access to a large truck, you won’t get through the front entrance. And I can tell you that the runways aren’t much better either. In terminal three, well, that’s where the government has its emergency response center, in retrospect, not the best place to put it.

Members of various government ministries now dealing with the crisis are having trouble getting here, this a practical problem and a psychological blow. And what about foreign nationals, tourists? What does the Thai government suggest they do?

DR. TONGTHONG CHANDRANSU, Flood Response Operations Center: For the tourists, I might suggest that Thailand is — still be the good destinations, but not in Bangkok right now.

JOHN SPARKS: So, go to the beach?

DR. TONGTHONG CHANDRANSU: Please, or uphill.  

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN SPARKS: All roads leading uphill today were jammed. Those with the means were getting out.

At the city’s bus stations, passengers queued in the blistering heat. And at Hua Lamphong Station, the concourse was packed. Even the monks had to shove over.

WOMAN: Up until really about an hour ago, we were fine and just walking around the streets. And then all of a sudden, we saw some of the flooding, and I think that’s what made us nervous.

JOHN SPARKS: You thought, right, we’re getting out of here.

WOMAN: Exactly.

JOHN SPARKS: It’s probably a wise decision. The situation is now critical, say officials, with more water and high tides expected this weekend.

JEFFREY BROWN: The floods have killed nearly 400 people and displaced more than 100,000 others. It’s the heaviest flooding in Thailand in more than half-a-century.