Expats Evacuate Flooded Bangkok

Scenes of flooding in Bangkok. Creative commons photograph.

The worse floods that Thailand has experienced in over half a century have hit North Bangkok and now threaten to spread to the downtown area of the city, putting many businesses, homes and public facilities at risk.

Expatriates working for companies such as the Toyota Motor Co. and Hitachi Ltd, are being evacuated from the Thai capital and relocated to Japan as the waters continue to swell in the northern area of Bangkok, with expats who have children of a school age being treated as a priority. Cable maker Fujikura Ltd. Are implementing a similar action plan.

Discussing the evacuation, one Japanese expatriate described the situation to Bloomberg: “If Bangkok is flooded, I have to be stuck in a condo with the kids,” said Masayo Imai, 35, whose husband works for a Japanese manufacturer. “It’s better for us to leave and stay in Japan until we know Bangkok is safe,” she said.

Elsewhere, Yuko Hirohara, 39 and wife of a Japanese trader described the conditions that are emerging in the impacted areas in an article published by The Japan Times: “The tap water at our home has turned brown. So we’ve decided to return to Japan temporarily to minimize the health impact (of worsening sanitation) on our son,” she said. “Still, I’m worried that some epidemic may break out even after the flood is over.”

Australian expatriate, Matthew Bennett, who owns a clothing manufacturing company in Bangkok described the scenes on the ground to Australian newspaper ABC as “devastating” and “like a tsunami coming through.”

“There’s infection, there’s snakes in the water – cobra snakes – there’s crocodiles that people breed that have all got out in the river. It’s a recipe for disaster,” he added.

It is estimated that the floods have already caused damage in excess of 800 billion baht, the equivalent to $26 billion USD and the impact on future tourism to the country could be devastating with Thailand’s Minister of Tourism predicting that tourism arrivals could be 500,000 to one million below earlier targets of 19 million tourists for the year.

Yesterday the Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra issued a statement warning the people in Bangkok that no one can stop the floods and that there is a “50-50” chance that the waters would spread to the inner areas of the city. Close to tears she told the Thai people that the only thing they could do is let nature take its course and try and manage the situation: “It’s a crisis, because if we try to resist this massive amount of floodwater, a force of nature, we won’t win,” she said. “But if we allow it to flow freely, then people in many areas are prepared.”

“It seems like we’re fighting against the forces of nature,” she added. The truth is, we need to let it flow naturally out to the sea, and what we can do now is to manage it.”

Despite the threat, not all expatriates are deserting the city. Matthew Lobner, who is currently working in Bangkok as the head of Thai operations for HSBC, told Bloomberg how he has relocated his wife and children to a high-floor safe haven with enough food to last a month in order to avoid the flooding: “We will stick it out,” he told the news agency. “It becomes harder because it’s not a single impact. It’s like you’re on station. Sustaining the alertness is important.”

Whether that proves to be a good decision remains to be seen. However, an assessment issued by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned: “The capital is at high risk of being further flooded this weekend when the 1.2 billion cubic meters of northern runoff, about the volume of 480,000 Olympic pools, is expected to arrive in Bangkok at the same time as the predicted arrival of high tides.”

If flood water of this degree does hit the capital food and water supplies could potentially be strained and health officials have also warned that waterborne diseases now pose a serious threat to people living in and around Bangkok.

Several governments,, including Australia, Britain, Hong Kong, Singapore, The United Arab Emirates and the United States, have told their citizens to avoid any travel to Bangkok that is not essential.

The flooding, which was caused by unusually heavy monsoon rain, has already killed 373 people.

For frequent updates from Bangkok, see the website of the English-language Bangkok Post newspaper, www.bangkokpost.com