November 4, [PDN]: the flotilla of HTMS Chakri Naruebet, with its four helicopters, and HTMS Surin equipped with several marine amphibious landing craft are now in position off Hat Yai to act in general disaster relief, conduct aerial and maritime surveys and provide welfare and logistical support to the flood-ravaged South.
In Hat Yai, the streets are submerged with many residents taking to the upper floors or even clinging to roofs. The Nov1 flash floods inundated houses to a depth of two metres/6.6 feet in the space of 15 minutes, cutting communications as telegraph poles and power lines fell and mobile phones failed. Banks, petrol stations, schools and government offices are closed for the duration, while hospitals have evacuated patients and electricity is non-existent in this city of nearly 1 million inhabitants. Throughout the South, police have been put on alert to prevent looting and thefts from banks and gold shops.
Of the islands, buffeted by turbulent seas and violent winds, Koh Tao is cut off, leaving 100 tourists stranded as the speedboat operators ceased operations, while only Samui and Phangan remain linked to the mainland by ferry. Air traffic has also been suspended between Bangkok and Samui and Samui and Phuket, stranding a further 100 tourists. In Samui, the residents daren’t set foot outside their houses as electricity remains cut for a third day and flooding increases, defying the already-distributed 40,000 sandbags’ efforts to stem the rising waters, until a further 40,000 are brought in today.
All rail traffic to the South now stops at Surat Thani’s Tha Chana Station, flooded tracks making further progress impossible. There will be some delight felt by the 100 inmates of Tha Chana Prison, however, who will have a day out being relocated to the Central Muang Prison because of flooding. Run-offs and flash floods from a mountain in Nakhon Si Thammarat threaten Chaiya and Tha Chana, the latter already flooded to a depth of 1.5 metres by run-offs from the Kaeng Krung National Park.
Run-offs, with consequent landslides are posing a threat in Chumphon, too, where eight districts have been put on evacuation alert. Chumphon is also experiencing communication problems with the main road to Surat Thani and sections of the Asia 41 Road both impassable, canals overflowing and four bridges damaged by mountain run-offs.
In Narathiwat, 13 districts of have been flooded to a depth of between 60-150cm., forcing over 100 schools to close. In Trang Province, too, 50 waterlogged schools and universities have ceased teaching, as eight districts have been declared disaster zones, with Ratsada, Huai Yot, Wang Wiset, Muang, Na Yong, Yan Ta Khao, Palian and Kantang under between 50-80cm. of water.
Phatthalung is reeling from flash floods which killed three in Bang Kaew district and one in Khuan Khanun district, affected 30,442 families, and damaged 70,000 rai of farmland in 11 districts, as the provinces residents frantically attempted to store rice and dried food.
As regards the rest of the nation, as the floodwaters have started to recede in 19 of Thailand’s 48 affected provinces, food and other basic necessities are beginning to get through. Taking stock, over 7 million have been affected, over 3% of agricultural land has been damaged and the financial costs to date are estimated at Bt20.2 billion reducing economic growth by a 0.2 percentage point this year according to the Finance Ministry. However, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva continues to assure the world that Thailand’s economy is “strong and resilient,” and economic growth is still expected to exceed 7% this year.
On a positive note, Thailand is not the only Southeast Asian country to have been affected by torrential rains, cyclones and the monsoon have also hit other top producers of rice and rubber in the region, so much so that Rubber Futures in Thailand and Singapore surged to a record high, Nov3, and rice has seen some of its largest gains in two decades, according to Bloomberg. For those Thai producers able to salvage part of their crop, this will be god news, though not so good for consumers who will obviously have to pay higher prices