Thailand’s devastating flood crisis deepened Tuesday after floodwaters began pouring over sandbagged barriers into Bangkok’s second airport, shutting it down after commercial airlines suspended flights and authorities closed its runways.
It was not immediately clear how much water had entered Don Muang airport, which is used primarily for domestic flights, or whether it was controllable. But the news was sure to further erode the credibility of a government that has repeatedly sent mixed signals about its ability to defend an increasingly anxious capital from the nation’s worst floods in nearly 60 years.
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, the country’s main international gateway, has yet to be affected by flooding and flights there were operating normally. Most of the city has been spared inundation so far.
The scene at Don Muang, though, was chaotic as throngs of confused passengers struggled to leave or pulled up to the departure hall with luggage, unaware their flights had been cancelled.
With parts of the main road heading to downtown Bangkok flooded knee-deep, taxis were in scarce supply. Some travelers waited hours for a ride as airlines scrambled to arrange special buses.
Capt. Kantpat Mangalasiri, the airport’s director, said Don Muang’s runways would be closed until Nov. 1 to ensure safe aircraft operations.
Don Muang has come to symbolize the gravity of Thailand’s catastrophic floods, which have swamped a third of the country’s provinces and killed 366 people over three months. The airport complex houses the government’s emergency Flood Relief Operations Centre, and one of its terminals is home to about 4,000 people who have fled waterlogged homes.
On Tuesday, Science and Technology Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi told The Associated Press the airport could only support 1,500 displaced people, and thousands who sought refuge there would have to be moved to other shelters because “we are concerned about their well-being.”
Last week, the Thai air force moved about 20 planes from Don Muang, which is also a military base, as a precaution as waters approached the capital.
Floodwaters have been pouring into the Don Muang district, located on Bangkok’s northern outskirts, for several days. Don Muang is among seven of the capital’s 50 districts that the government has declared at risk. Those zones, located in the north and northwest, are all experiencing some flooding.
The latest to be added to the list is the northwestern district of Bang Phlat. Late Monday, Gov. Suhumbhand Paribatra warned residents there to move their belongings to higher ground after water from the Chao Phraya River crept in through a subway construction site.
Last week, Yingluck ordered key floodgates opened to help drain runoff through urban canals to the sea, but there is great concern that rising tides in the Gulf of Thailand this weekend could slow critical outflows and flood the city.
Late Monday, the flood relief centre said water levels in the worst-hit parts of the country — the submerged provinces north of Bangkok — were stable or subsiding. But the massive run-off was still bearing down on the capital as it flowed south toward the Gulf of Thailand.
While neighbourhoods just across Bangkok’s boundaries are underwater, most of the city is dry and has not been directly affected by the deluge.
Anxious Bangkokians, though, have been raiding stores to stock up on emergency supplies, and many have been protecting their homes and businesses with sandbags. Some have even erected sealed concrete barriers across shop fronts.