Thailand’s government scrambled to protect the capital on Saturday and defend two industrial zones from flooding as water levels crept higher and hundreds of riverside residents prepared to leave their homes.
The diversion of floodwater that reached levels as high as three meters on Bangkok’s fringe provinces appeared to be working for now, although some spilled into northern districts, forcing hundreds into evacuation centers.
Thailand’s worst flooding in half a century has affected a third of the country and has threatened Bangkok for several days. Some 356 people have been killed and 113,000 have been forced to live in makeshift shelters.
The military said it may not be able to protect the Lat Krabang and Bangchan industrial estates to the north and east of Bangkok, risking more disruption to supply chains and cuts in production for foreign firms operating in the country.
The government has been criticized for its management of the crisis. On Friday Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra invoked a special law granting her full power and jurisdiction over the metropolitan authorities and the military to prevent further conflicts in handling the floods.
“All agencies have to be united where tackling the runoff is concerned, because successfully diverting the water to drain into the sea via east Bangkok would hinge on all relevant agencies moving in a concerted effort,” she said in a televised address.
Twenty-eight of Thailand’s 77 provinces and 2.46 million people are affected, with water covering an area 16 times the size of Hong Kong.
The floods have devastated industrialized areas north of Bangkok, inflicting damage estimated at around $3.3 billion and putting more than 650,000 of Thais temporarily out of work.
Myanmar has suffered at least 100 deaths and Cambodia 247 as a result of severe flooding.
Thailand’s central bank said 2011 growth might be about 3 percent rather than the 4.1 percent it had previously forecast. The finance minister said growth in Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy might be barely 2 percent this year.
Residents moved valuables to higher ground, tens of thousands of cars were left at parking lots at airports, shopping malls and concert venues, while some vehicles were moved to bridges and flyovers or parked on elevated tollways.
Stores ran out of bottled water and instant noodles. People were seen buying sacks of ice to melt into drinking water.
An airport in northern Don Muang area was transformed into an evacuation center, with 3,000 people sleeping in departure lounges or tents pitched in the arrivals hall.
INDUSTRIAL ZONE IN DANGER
Scattered rain was expected on Sunday and Monday, according to the Meteorological Department.
Bangkok has so far escaped the full force of the flooding, with fringe provinces of Ayutthaya, Pathum Thani and Nonthaburi among the worst hit and seven industrial estates closed.
In the northern district of Lak Si, residents pushed stalled cars or waded through waist-high water after it spilled over the Prapa canal. Some 1,200 people with homes along river banks in central Bangkok were advised to leave.
Air force helicopters transferred patients from Bangkok hospitals seen as potential danger spots while troops battled to protect Lat Krabang and Bangchan industrial zones.
“We won’t leave the job but we can’t guarantee you 100 percent that they won’t flood,” army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters, adding that he ordered troops to reinforce floodwalls and raise their height.
Lat Krabang is home to 254 factories and Bangchan has 90 facilities. Both are responsible for autos, transport, food and beverage and electrical appliances industries.
Forty-nine factories at Lat Krabang are Japanese, including Honda. It also houses plants operated by Isuzu Motors and Unilever.
The potential economic damage from serious flooding in the city of at least 12 million people is huge, with Bangkok accounting for 41 percent of gross domestic product.
Japanese car makers have suffered badly, with output cut by about 6,000 units a day, while tech giants like Intel, Apple and Dell could be affected as a result of a fall in Thai production of hard drives.
Traders also estimate about 2 million tonnes of milled rice may have been ruined in Thailand, the world’s top rice exporter.