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Floodwaters rising across Thailabd

October 17, 2011

Damages from Thailand’s worst flooding in decades continued to mount as parts of another industrial estate were inundated and residents worried that Bangkok remained vulnerable despite recent receding waters.

Thailand’s capital city so far has remained largely unaffected, because of a system of walls, dikes, canals and tunnels that steer floodwaters away from the city of nine million people and into the Gulf of Thailand. That network appeared to be holding firm in most areas Monday, a day after officials indicated they thought the worst period of flooding had passed, with water levels falling in some areas outside of the capital.

But authorities were forced to order the evacuation of the Navanakorn industrial estate, in Pathum Thani province just north of the city, after waters breached a protective wall built there in recent days. Bangkok residents remained worried other barriers could fail, or that rising tides later this month could offset the lower flood levels seen in some areas.

A flood victim on a raft used a paddle to collect relief supplies dropped from a military helicopter in Pathum Thani Province, just north of Bangkok, on Monday.

“Bangkok is still not yet safe,” Bangkok Gov. Sukhumbhand Paribatra said Monday.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the Thai government would need to spend around 100 billion baht ($3.26 billion) to reconstruct areas affected by the flooding, which has left at least 307 people dead and more than 260,000 jobless. Finance Minister Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala said earlier Monday the flooding could squeeze the country’s economic growth in 2011 by 1.0 to 1.7 percentage point, according to estimates from the Bank of Thailand and the National Economic and Social Development Board.

Thousands of people have been forced out of their homes, and many towns remain partially submerged. Food supplies also have been hit, with millions of chickens killed and an estimated loss of 4 million tons of rice. Pigs have run wild on some highways after farmers were unable to keep them on their land, while hungry elephants roamed hills outside of the central city of Ayutthaya.

The floodwaters are presenting a particularly difficult challenge for Thai policy makers. In addition to having to fund the massive cleanup and relief program, they are expected to face rising inflationary pressures from the loss of food production even as economic growth slows due to idled factories and weakening global demand.

Five major industrial parks in addition to Navanakorn have been damaged, disrupting supply chains across Asia, affecting car manufacturers, electronics makers and other companies. Only about 10% of the Navanakorn industrial park—Thailand’s oldest—was flooded, authorities said. But the emergency situation forced officials to call for a full shutdown at the estate, whose operations include Japanese watchmakers Casio and Seiko, the Swiss powdered-milk and food producer Nestle, Japanese electronics company Toshiba and hard-drive maker Western Digital, according to the Associated Press.

Even if Bangkok avoids serious flooding, it also “will no doubt feel the economic impact from clogged streets and scarce tourists,” wrote Fred Neumann, an economist at HSBC, in a note to clients.

Residents have grown increasingly frustrated over what they perceive to be mixed messages from government officials. The spokesman for Thailand’s Flood Relief Operation Command, Wim Rungwattanachinda, said Monday that Bangkok residents “should not be worrying, because the flood barricades are still under control and safe.”

But Mr. Sukhumbhand, the Bangkok governor, said that “we are still worrying about flooding from Pathum Thani” and that authorities were racing to fortify sand bags and other barriers to keep more water from flowing into Bangkok.

—Wilawan Watcharasakwet and Phisanu Phromchanya contributed to this article.

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