* Floodwater enters industrial estate east of Bangkok
* Estate operator says has contingency plan
* More than 3 million people living in 28 Thai provinces affected
By Amy Sawitta Lefevre
BANGKOK, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Floodwater has breached an industrial estate to the east of the Thai capital, stirring fears that foreign and Thai companies face a repeat of the devastation suffered in 2011, but the estate’s operator said water levels were manageable.
Thailand is the world’s largest producer of hard-disk drives and a big supplier of electronic components and car parts.
Flooding in 2011 killed more than 800 people and caused major disruption to industry, cutting economic growth to just 0.1 percent. Global firms, including Apple Inc and Toyota Motor Corp, also faced supply disruptions.
Amata Corporation, Thailand’s biggest industrial estate developer, said its industrial park in Chonburi province, 114 km (71 miles) east of Bangkok, was operating normally, despite minor flooding.
Chief Executive Wikrom Krommadit said on Tuesday that water up to a height of 15 cm (6 inches) had entered the park and accumulated in three areas, but had not hit operations.
“Water levels in the park are stable and all our factories are working as normal,” Wikrom told Reuters. “If the situation gets worse, we plan to divide the park in two sections to build a temporary flood way to allow water to flow through.”
He said it was the first time floods had hit the Amata Nakorn estate, spread over 3,020 hectares (7,459 acres) and home to several companies producing parts for Japanese automakers. Nearly half the factories there hail from Japan.
Authorities say the floodwater is moving in a different direction from that in 2011, when water flowed towards Bangkok, the capital, from Thailand’s north.
“It is heading towards eastern provinces, so there’s a chance that industrial parks that were not hit last time could face flooding this time around,” said Chartchai Promlert, chief of Thailand’s Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.
Floods this year have affected 28 out of 77 Thai provinces and 36 people have been killed, the department says, with more than 3 million people affected since July.
Toyota is weighing up risk-management strategies for one of its three assembly plants in Thailand, the Ban Pho facility, in Chachoengsao province to the east of Bangkok, a spokesman for the Japanese auto maker told Reuters.
“Ban Pho is in an at-risk area at the moment, but we believe the plant will be spared from flooding,” he said.
Flooding in 2011 swamped seven industrial estates in Thailand’s central region, but many of the estates hit then say they are better prepared this time.
Rojana Industrial Park PCL said none of its three industrial estates had been affected by flooding this year.
“We’re concerned, but we have built concrete barriers up to 7 m. high around our estates and we have hired a specialist water management company to update us on weather patterns,” park director Amara Charoengitwattanagun told Reuters.
The firm’s industrial park in Ayutthaya province, 70 km (45 miles) from Bangkok, was flooded in 2011, forcing the temporary closure of nearly 200 factories, including one run by Japanese car maker Honda Motor Co Ltd.
Industry Minister Prasert Boonchaisuk said he was confident that industrial estates swamped by floodwater in 2011 would not be affected, partly because rain so far has been less heavy.
“Earthen dykes are in place at estates in Ayutthaya and Pathum Thani province and they have built concrete barriers higher than peak water levels in 2011, but we’re not expecting nearly as much water,” Prasert said.
Although floods have affected the major rice-growing region of Isaan in northeast Thailand, there has been no official data yet about the extent of damage to the major crop.
“Rice damage in the northeast is expected to be bigger than in well-protected areas in the central rice bowl of the country,” Deputy Commerce Minister Yanyong Puangrach told reporters.