Floods could swamp heart of Bangkok

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The main river coursing through Thailand’s capital swelled to record highs yesterday amid fears flood defences could break and swamp the heart of the city.

Ankle-high water from the Chao Phraya river spilled through one sandbagged entranceway of Bangkok’s treasured Grand Palace, which once housed the kingdom’s monarchy.

The army was pumping out the water, and tourists were still entering the white-walled compound.

The river has filled roads outside the palace gates for days, but the water has receded with the tides. But the higher than normal tides in the Gulf of Thailand, expected to peak today, are obstructing the flood runoff from the north, and there are fears the overflows could swamp parts of the city centre.

The government is also worried major barriers could break.

Yesterday morning’s high tide passed without a major breach, but the waters briefly touched riverside areas closer to the city’s central businesses districts of Silom and Sathorn.

Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra said: “It is clear that although the high tides haven’t reached 2.5 metres it was high enough to prolong the suffering of those living outside of the flood walls and to threaten those living behind deteriorating walls.”

The flood walls protecting much of the inner city are 2.5 metres (8.2ft), and today’s high tide is expected to reach 2.6 metres (8.5ft).

Seven of Bangkok’s 50 districts – all in the northern outskirts – are heavily flooded, and residents have fled aboard bamboo rafts and army trucks and by wading in waist-deep water. Another eight districts have seen less serious flooding.

Fresh flooding was reported yesterday in the city’s south-east when a canal overflowed in a neighbourhood near Sukhumvit Road.

The floods, the heaviest in Thailand in more than half a century, have drenched a third of the country’s provinces, killed close to 400 people and displaced more than 110,000. The water has crept from the central plains south toward the Gulf of Thailand, but Bangkok is in the way.