BANGKOK (Reuters) - Floodwater swamped a new area of Thailand’s capital on Wednesday as some shops started rationing food and the prime minister warned that parts of Bangkok could be flooded for up to a month.
Residents of Bang Phlad, a riverside district some way from Bangkok’s three swamped northern districts, were told to urgently evacuate as floods hit the capital on a second front, deepening anxiety in the city of at least 12 million people, many of whom were expected to flee ahead of a special five-day holiday.
“After assessing the situation, we expect floodwater to remain in Bangkok for around two weeks to one month before going into the sea,” Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told reporters.
“However ... we shouldn’t face water as high as two or three metres staying for two or three months as we’ve seen in other provinces.”
Thailand’s worst flooding in half a century has killed at least 366 people since mid-July and disrupted the lives of nearly 2.5 million, with more than 113,000 in shelters and 720,000 people seeking medical attention.
Bangkok residents scrambled to stock up on food, but bottled water was nowhere to be seen and some shops restricted customers to small quantities of food to prevent hoarding.
With high tide approaching in the Gulf of Thailand, Seri Supharatid, director of Rangsit University’s Centre on Climate Change and Disaster, said the city’s fate rested with river dykes holding.
“In the worst-case scenario, if all the dykes break, all parts of Bangkok would be more or less flooded,” Seri said.
The economic damage is difficult to quantify, but the central bank has revised its growth forecast for Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy to 3.1 percent this year from 4.1 percent. The finance minister’s projection was a gloomier 2 percent.
Flooding has forced the closure of seven industrial estates in Ayutthaya, Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani provinces bordering Bangkok, causing billions of dollars of damage and disrupting international supply chains for industry and putting about 650,000 people temporarily out of work.
The cabinet on Tuesday agreed on a 325 billion baht budget to rebuild the country, while city authorities and the Commerce Ministry were meeting with industrial estate operators, hotels and food producers to try to minimise the damage and kick-start a recovery.
Authorities have called a holiday from Thursday until Monday to allow people to get out Bangkok, although financial markets will remain open.
The rising tide could complicate efforts to drive water from the swelling Chao Phraya river out to the sea, putting more pressure on a city that accounts for 41 percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product.
Heavy rain could also deepen the crisis and thunderstorms were forecast for Wednesday.
The floods are expected to take a toll on Thailand’s tourism industry, which employs more than 2 million people and makes up 6 percent of GDP. Tourism Minister Chumphol Silpa-archa said arrivals could be 500,000 to 1 million below the government’s target of 19 million this year.
Three northern districts of Bangkok have been under water since Saturday, with army vehicles driving at a snail’s pace through 1.5 metres of water, ferrying evacuees away.
Some people were being evacuated for a second time, with 4,000 sheltering in Don Muang moving to the province of Chon Buri. Evacuees at a university in Pathum Thani province also had to move on as floodwater engulfed the campus.
To tackle the flooding, the authorities have pumped an estimated 8 billion cubic metres of water daily through canals and a river around Bangkok’s east and west towards the sea.
But the large volume of water flowing through the city remains a concern, with the vast Chao Phraya river at record levels and running past high-end hotels, embassies and the Sathorn and Silom areas of the city’s business district.
Water has engulfed two areas, with levels climbing higher than half a metre in the densely populated Bang Phlad district near to the Chao Phraya and closer to the commercial heart.
Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra said the situation was “critical” in Bang Phlad. Overloaded trucks shuttled out evacuees, gas stations were inundated and shop owners pulled down shutters and added sandbags to makeshift defence walls.
“My shop is damaged. I’ve prepared for this, but it’s not enough — there’s too much water,” said grocery store owner Vichit Pookmaitree.
As panic mounted, shoppers at a central Bangkok hypermarket run by Big C Supercenter Pcl BIGC.BK were being restricted to one packet of rice and one tray of eggs. Toilet paper was also being rationed. Bottled water had run out.
In some areas, people are already complaining about a deterioration in the quality of normally drinkable tap water.
The Metropolitan Waterworks Authority said floodwater had got into raw canal water used for its supply. Chemicals were being used to purify it.
Shares in Thai beverage firm Haad Thip Pcl (HTC.BK) surged more than 6 percent on Wednesday on expectations the company would benefit from the huge demand.
Additional reporting by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat, Panarat Thepgumpanat, Ploy Ten Kate, Jutarat Skulpichetrat, Angie Teo and Prasit Phromtong, Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa