By Vorasit Satienlerk
PATHUM THANI, Thailand Oct 11 Thailand raced on
Tuesday to build floodwalls on the outskirts of Bangkok to
prevent the worst floods in half a century from inundating parts
of the capital later this week when water flowing from the north
reaches the low-lying city.
At least 269 people have been killed by heavy monsoon rains,
floods and mudslides that have battered 27 of Thailand's 77
provinces since late July, according to the Department of
Disaster Prevention and Mitigation
Much of Thailand's north, northeast and central plains are
flooded, affecting 2.3 million people. Bangkok -- only two
metres (6.5 ft) above sea level -- could be next if water
overflowing from reservoirs in the north arrives at the same
time as high estuary tides are due from Oct. 13.
Rescue workers hastily built a floodwall in Pathum Thani,
north of Bangkok, where strong currents burst a river embankment
overnight, flooding homes in water at least two metres high.
"I've never seen floods as bad as this year. The
first floor of my house is all flooded and it's coming up to the
second floor," said Wanpen Suanmakam, 62, a resident in Pathum
Thani, a province intersected by canals that feed its rice
Another resident, Sukanna Saeieaw, 60, almost up to her neck
in water, said a makeshift walkway briefly helped people avoid
water when the road was flooded but it was quickly washed away.
"The water came in very fast," she said.
Lerpong Kaewsrichan, Pathum Thani deputy governor, said the
water had mostly submerged farmland but two industrial estates
in the area had been spared for now. "We're trying our best to
protect our economic zones," he said.
About 2,000 people were packed into a Pathum Thani
evacuation centre, most from the neighbouring province of
Ayutthaya, one of the worst affected.
Nearly 198 factories in a sprawling industrial estate there,
including an assembly plant of Honda Motor Co Ltd , have
closed after floodwater breached a wall of sandbags at the
weekend. Nikon Corp said it has halted a digital SLR
camera production site due to flooding.
Toyota Motor said it halted operations at all three
Thailand is a major production centre for many of the
world's biggest car manufacturers. Their assembly plants are
mostly in eastern Rayong province, which has not been badly hit,
but there is bound to be disruption because car part makers
elsewhere have been affected.
About 3.4 million acres (1.38 million hectares) of farm land
nationwide is under water -- about 13 times the size of Hong
Kong -- and more then 700,000 homes were destroyed or damaged.
Many people used boats to navigate streets or waited on
roofs of homes for help.
THREAT TO TOURISM
The final quarter of the year is the high season for
Thailand's big tourist sector. The ancient capital of Ayutthaya
is flooded and the popular northern city of Chiang Mai has also
been hit, suggesting tourism may take a big hit.
Despite the disruption to road and rail travel to the north,
Tourism Minister Chumphol Silpa-archa played down the impact as
he headed into a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
"At least 39,000 foreign travellers are still coming to
Thailand every day. They're choosing to visit other areas and
travel by air," he told reporters.
To protect Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, the main
international gateway into Thailand, a three-metre (9.8 ft) high
earth dike was being reinforced.
The cabinet agreed to cut current government spending by 10
percent for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1 and divert the
funds -- around 80 billion baht ($2.6 billion)-- to relief work.
The government still aims to keep its budget deficit at the
planned level of 350 billion baht, officials said.
Finance Minister Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala said on Monday
the central bank had put the initial cost of the damage caused
by the floods at 60 billion baht ($1.9 billion), about 0.6
percent of GDP.
His ministry has put damage at 69 billion baht and cut its
economic growth forecast for this year to 3.7 percent from 4.0
percent due to the floods and the global economic slowdown.
Economists at HSBC said the floods may shave up to one
percentage point off estimated 4.9 percent year-on-year economic
growth in the fourth quarter, although they expected
reconstruction to boost demand in the first half of next year.
The Commerce Ministry has cut its estimate of the main rice
crop, harvesting of which started this month, to 21 million
tonnes from 25 million because of flooding. Thailand is the
world's biggest producer of the grain.