Bangkok flood defenses hold off peak tides
BANGKOK -- Defenses shielding the center of Thailand's capital from the nation's worst floods in nearly 60 years mostly held at critical peak tides Saturday, as the waters began to recede after killing almost 400 people. But the threat to central Bangkok was not over, the prime minister said, and the city's northern districts remained submerged along with much of the countryside.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra urged citizens to let the crisis run its course as the floodwaters slowly drain to the sea, with Bangkok lying in their path. The floods that have besieged central Thailand for weeks submerged entire towns across the country's heartland and shuttered hundreds of factories over the last two months.
"We have the good news that the situation in the central region has improved as runoff water gradually decreased," she said. "I thank people and urge them to be more patient in case this weekend is significant because of the high tide."
Bangkok residents watched the city's dikes and sandbag barriers warily as the high tide pushing up the Chao Phraya River from the Gulf of Thailand peaked Saturday morning. It had been described as the greatest test of the capital's flood defenses since the northern deluge first approached Bangkok more than three weeks ago.
While some water doused streets and shops along the river, the tides fell short of forecast highs and there was no major breach. Higher than usual tides will continue through Monday, but are predicted to be lower than Saturday's.
While downtown Bangkok was bone-dry and bustling, areas along the city's outskirts saw flooding spread. Seven of Bangkok's 50 districts -- all in the northern and western outskirts -- are heavily inundated. Eight other districts have seen less serious flooding.
In the city's west, not far from the flooded district of Bang Phlat, workers filled sandbags and stacked them in pickup trucks for delivery to the front lines, while vendors did booming trade in life vests, plastic boats, Styrofoam and anything else that floated. With many roads in the area submerged, traffic was heavy both heading in and out of the city.
Bangkok Gov. Sukhumbhand Paribatra highlighted another threat: sanitation. He ordered boats to collect uncollected garbage in a flooded district where most places were inaccessible by truck.
While many in Bangkok will be breathing somewhat easier now that the highest of tides has passed, there was no complacency in the Sam Sen area, where a floodwall burst Saturday morning under the pressure from the surging water. Residents and soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder in the churning torrents trying to plug the gap and get the flow under control.