BY DANIEL SCHEARF – Floodwaters that devastated parts of northern and central Thailand have reached one of the capital’s two main airports, where the government has its main flood relief center. Thai authorities have said Don Muang airport in northern Bangkok has not been affected, but warned six central districts of the city to prepare for flooding, including the airport.
Eyewitnesses say flood waters are within meters of Bangkok’s main domestic airport, Don Muang, in a northern district that goes by the same name. Though the water at the airport is only shoe deep, it is expected to rise.
Run-off from weeks of record flooding in Thailand’s northern and central plains has been swelling the city’s canals and Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River. Authorities have struggled to contain spill-overs and leaks by reinforcing dikes.
Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra has warned residents of six districts, including Don Muang, they could soon be flooded and should move to higher ground.
Thai authorities have been using the airport to coordinate flood-relief and prevention efforts, raising the embarrassing possibility that they too could be flooded.
But flood-relief spokesman Sean Boonpracong told VOA the airport should be safe and they have no need to leave for now.
“The water will come in with a certain characteristic of this type of level and then build a certain amount of depth at the level, which will take some time,” said Boonpracong. “There will probably be a bit overnight. That front of the mass of water would move much much further before the level go way, way, way up. And, that will take at least two days. We are aware of the situation and we will make a decision accordingly.”
One of the airport’s passenger terminals is also being used to house hundreds of people evacuated from flooded houses.
Pontipat Chansurawong, 47, and her four family members fled their home in Rangsit, just north of Bangkok. She says they have been living in the airport for two days and will not return until the waste-deep waters recede.
“Until it is normal. No water. Maybe one or two months. Later, I do not know. Now, I do not know about the future,” she said.
It is not only people who lost their homes and have to live at the airport.
A makeshift animal shelter at Don Muang houses about 100 dogs, cats, and other animals.
“Yes, we have plenty of food,” said Dr. Aphiradi, a volunteer veterinarian, who says their greatest challenge is space. “But the thing that we are lacking is the place for the dog, the kennel. Because we have the problem with the big dog.”
The airport has reached its capacity for evacuees, and despite their losses they are still working to keep their spirits up.
Two families with small children dance together near a speaker playing music.
More than 100,000 people are living in similar evacuation centers in Thailand. They know it could be days or even weeks before they return to their normal lives.
More rain is expected and high tide at the end of the month could slow down draining of flood waters into the sea. The floods are the worst in decades and have cost more than 350 lives and an estimated $6 billion.