BANGKOK: The main river in Thailand’s capital swelled to a record high on Friday, spilling over its banks and sending water rippling into the grounds of the Grand Palace , a primary historical monument of temples and gilded spires.
The amount of water entering the palace grounds was small, but the breach was symbolically significant as Bangkok enters a crucial period when high tides to the south are pushing back at runoff from the north that has breached the city’s outer defences and is now flooding some outlying districts.
“The crisis we’re facing today is the most critical natural disaster that ever happened in Thai history,” PM Yingluck Shinawatra said.
Chinatown, not far from the palace, was flooded, and concerns grew that floodwaters could reach the commercial center of the city, with its banks and shopping malls and five-star hotels, scene of the “red shirt” protests early last year that were Thailand’s most recent crisis. The commercial center was quiet on Friday as Bangkok residents continued to flee by the thousands after the government warned that there was little more that it could do to stop deluge.
“What we’re doing today is resisting the force of nature ,” the prime minister had said on Thursday. “We cannot resist all of it.” A huge mass of flood water has coursed down over recent weeks from the north, following an unusually heavy monsoon season , taking a steep economic toll as it inundated cities and industrial estates. Several feet of stagnant water continue to paralyse the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, to the north of Bangkok. With bad news continuing , and the prospects for recovery becoming an increasingly steep challenge, the Bank of Thailand cut its economic growth forecast for 2011 to 2.6% from 4.1%.
“The widespread flood, now affecting not only agricultural production but also manufacturing activity, is likely to weigh on the fourth quarter’s growth substantially ,” the central bank said. Floodwater breached the defences of the domestic airport , Don Muang, earlier this week. Airport director, Kanpat Mangkalasiri, said that 90% of the airport was now flooded. The main international airport, Suvarnabhumi , continued to function normally.
©2011 The New York Times News Service