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Bangkok Residents Brace For Floods

October 21, 2011

By Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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BANGKOK - The prime minister of Thailand has given no assurances that Bangkok would be saved from the rising floodwaters currently overwhelming sandbag walls on its outskirts.

Residents were advised to move their possessions to higher floors or areas on Friday as the Thai capital braced for the arrival of the floods from the central plains, which are several metres under water in places.

"I ask all Bangkok residents to move your belongings to higher ground as a precaution, but they should not panic. It's preparation," Yingluck Shinawatra, the Thai prime minister, said.

"We will rapidly assess the situation and regularly inform the public."

Yingluck said on Thursday that it was impossible to protect all of Bangkok from the floods, describing the situation as a "national crisis".

After days of resisting the move, the decision was taken to open up floodgates to let the water drain through Bangkok, which has an extensive system of waterways and drainage pumps.

The move should ease pressure on vulnerable flood barriers on the northern edge of the city of 12 million people, but increases the threat to Bangkok itself, which has so far escaped major inundation.

Bangkok residents were jittery on Friday as the government admitted it was failing in its battle to hold back huge floods just north of the city.

"The message has been changing constantly not just coming out of national government but from local government level here in Bangkok," Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay reported from the city.

"It has certainly added to the confusion for residents, added to what is a very nervous situation as people have been warned that these floodwaters are approaching from to the north of the city and areas like Ayutthaya province.

"At the moment the alerts are only really for areas in the north and the east of Bangkok city. Some of those areas are experiencing flooding right now. But for the rest of the city, they are on edge and just waiting for the next development, because the messages have been changing very regularly."

The floods have not come, but the sense of imminent doom is growing by the day. One measure of the fear are the protective walls of sandbags scattered across the city's canals, homes and shop-fronts are expanding in number and height daily.

"In Bangkok, it's a very surreal scene right now," our correspondent said. "It's a very beautiful day behind me but normally the roads would be absolutely choked with traffic; they are largely empty right now. They have been that way for the last 48 hours or so."

Residents of the city were parking their cars on higher ground and supermarkets were running out of bottled water and dry noodles as residents stocked up on supplies, he said.

Three months of heavy monsoon rains have killed more than 300 people, damaged the homes and livelihoods of millions of Thais, mostly in the north and centre, and forced tens of thousands to seek refuge in shelters.

Flooding in areas directly north of Bangkok worsened only days after some officials indicated the worst threat had passed.

Yingluck's government is now facing growing criticism over her government's conflicting messages and slow response to the floods.

The opposition is calling on the government to declare a state of emergency to make it easier to control people and prevent them damaging dykes to ease the flooding in their own areas.

Tens of thousands of soldiers and police have already been mobilised to maintain order and maintain the flood barriers.

The damage from the floods is estimated at more than 100bn baht [$3.3bn], according to a central bank estimate.

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(c)2011 Al-Jazeera (Doha, Qatar)

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Story image: A motorcyclist rides through a flooded road from an overflowing canal as residents catch fish on the other side on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011. AP Photo/Kantachat Raungratanaampon.

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