In Flooded Bangkok, a ‘Sandbag Fortress’

BY Larisa Epatko  October 25, 2011 at 2:52 PM EST

Many of Bangkok’s nearly 10 million residents are hunkering down behind sandbags or seeking other temporary shelter as their homes get swallowed up by rising flood waters from the north.

Thailand’s worst flooding in decades, brought on by severe monsoons and exacerbated by development that has wiped away natural flood protection, has drowned crops and halted industrial production in Thailand’s central plains region, and now is encroaching on the densely populated capital.

Bangkok’s domestic airport, Don Muang, has turned into a tent camp for about 3,000 stranded residents of Bangkok and outlying areas. It also serves as the headquarters of the government’s flood relief center for planning and providing supplies to displaced residents.

But that refuge is now itself at risk. “The flooding is significantly worse than anticipated and is now threatening that evacuation center, so there’s talk now that the people who have fled there will have to leave,” said Patrick Winn, GlobalPost’s correspondent in Bangkok who has been reporting on the flooding.

Some people are starting to distrust the government, Winn said, because officials haven’t been accurate in predicting where the flood waters are going or are downplaying potential damages. “Certain districts that they said wouldn’t flood have gone on to flood. It’s pretty clear it’s going to come into the city and get really close to the heart of the city, which is an extremely densely populated area with lots of shops and people and high-rises.”

Bangkok’s residents are trying to prevent damages by sandbagging buildings and reinforcing flood gates along the nearby Chao Phraya River. They’re also stocking up on food staples.

“There’s been an incredible run on instant noodles, which is an old reliable here in Thailand. They’re really cheap and all you need is some hot water to prepare them” so they’ve sold out in some parts of the city, said Winn.

Bangkok has turned into a “sandbag fortress” — even in the central part where flooding isn’t expected, residents are still taking precautions, he added. “You’ll see big sandbag walls around major buildings and shopkeepers are going out and buying sandbags for about a $1 a bag.”

In general, Thailand has come together during this catastrophe, said Winn. “You’re hearing reports of looting, but they’re really on a minor scale. And it has not turned into every man for himself in a way that it might in other societies. There’s an admirable display of unity here.”

But “the crisis is by no means over,” he continued. “In fact, we’re probably not even at the mid-point yet,” and waters are predicted to stay for four to six more weeks.

Raw video from the Associated Press shows how residents are trying to cope:

The NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff discusses the causes of the Asian floods with Kamal Kishore, a United Nations crisis prevention and recovery official, and Catharin Dalpino of Simmons College:

We’ll have more on the flooding on Tuesday’s NewsHour. View all of our World coverage and follow us on Twitter.