By Daniel Ten Kate and Suttinee Yuvejwattana
(Adds flood center spokesman’s comments in third paragraph.)
Oct. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra appealed for more than a million sandbags to prevent flooding in the Thai capital as a “huge amount” of water from northern dams threatens to deluge inner parts of the city.
“Every minute is critical from now on,” he told a televised press briefing late yesterday in which he asked for 1.2 million sandbags. “We urge the government to give those bags now. Otherwise, it will be too late.”
Sandbag shortages are widespread, with the price jumping 15 times to 75 baht ($2.44) each, Sean Boonpracong, a spokesman for the government’s Flood Relief Operation Command, said by phone today. A “lack of accurate information from the field” makes the situation unclear, he said, adding that inner Bangkok doesn’t face an immediate threat.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is seeking to spare Bangkok from the country’s worst flooding in 50 years after heavy monsoon rains forced officials to release large amounts of water from northern dams. The disaster has killed more than 300 people and swamped at least 930 plants employing more than 300,000 workers, according to government data.
Thailand’s Cabinet today will consider widening the 2012 budget deficit by 50 billion baht ($1.6 billion) to fund flood reconstruction, said Worawit Jumpeerath, head of the Budget Bureau. The reconstruction budget will be increased to 130 billion baht from an earlier estimate of 80 billion baht, he told reporters in Bangkok yesterday.
‘Surrounded by Water’
Sukhumbhand, whose opposition Democrat party was defeated by Yingluck’s party in national elections three months ago, said flooding may occur in suburban parts of northern Bangkok, including areas near Don Mueang airport, which handles mostly domestic flights and where the government has set up a flood relief center. Levies must be built urgently along canals in nearby Rangsit to prevent floods, he said.
“At the moment we are surrounded by water,” Jate Sopitpongstorn, a spokesman for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, said yesterday by phone. “What we are afraid of over the next two or three days is whether the sandbags we put in place will be able to hold.”
Four eastern districts in Bangkok, a city of 9.7 million people with an area twice the size of Singapore, are flooded with about half a meter (1.6 feet) of water, Jate said. Waters would rise slowly if temporary levies are breached, he said.
City officials are monitoring flood defenses along the Chao Phraya river, whose banks are lined with hotels including the Peninsula and the Shangri-La, as well as the Bank of Thailand. Bangkok sits near the bottom of the river basin, a low-lying area the size of Florida in which water drains from Chiang Mai in the north down to the Gulf of Thailand.
No Rate Cut
The Bank of Thailand will likely hold interest rates at a meeting tomorrow as reconstruction efforts and a “powerful stimulus” from Yingluck’s campaign pledges offset concerns about slowing economic growth, HSBC Holdings Plc economist Frederic Neumann wrote in a note.
The central bank will “assess the situation again and see how flexible we can be” after the waters recede, Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul told reporters in Bangkok yesterday, after saying last week the floods may cause damage of 120 billion baht and force the central bank to cut its forecast for economic growth this year. Bank of Thailand policy makers have increased borrowing costs for seven straight meetings.
‘Flexible’ Central Bank
The disaster may reduce economic growth by as much as 1.7 percentage points this year, Finance Minister Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala said, without specifying a reference point. The ministry on Sept. 28 cut its 2011 growth forecast to a range of 3.8 percent to 4.3 percent from a June forecast of 4 percent to 5 percent.
“If the rehabilitation process is quick, the economy can recover quickly too,” Thirachai said yesterday.
China and Malaysia may be the most vulnerable to supply chain disruptions stemming from the floods for office machinery, including hard-disk drives, Santitarn Sathirathai, a Singapore- based economist at Credit Suisse Group AG, wrote in a note yesterday. Thailand accounts for 60 percent of global production of hard-disk drives, the note said.
Yingluck apologized after floods swamped part of Navanakorn Pcl’s industrial zone in Pathum Thani on Bangkok’s outskirts, which employs 180,000 workers at 227 plants, including a hard- disk drive plant operated by Toshiba Corp., according to Toshiba’s website. The army is providing 200 buses to evacuate about 30,000 workers to four evacuation sites, said Pongsapat Pongcharoen, a flood center spokesman.
‘Fight to the End’
“The first barrier is broken, but we still have a second barrier and we are building a third one,” Industry Minister Wannarat Charnnukul said of efforts to protect other factories in land owned by Navanakorn, whose shares slid 6.5 percent to the lowest level in 19 months. “We will fight to the end.”
Ayutthaya was the hardest-hit province, with floodwaters last week swamping industrial estates that house factories operated by Hana Microelectronics Pcl, the country’s biggest semiconductor packager, and Japanese manufacturers including Honda Motor Co. and Nikon Corp.
At least 315 people have been killed and 8.8 million more affected as monsoon rains and floods have swept across 61 of Thailand’s 77 provinces over the past three months, the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department said yesterday. Floodwaters are still present in 27 provinces.
Thai Reinsurance Pcl’s shares have fallen 11 percent this month. The company can’t accurately estimate losses from the flooding, it said in a statement yesterday, adding that “the catastrophe has been unceasing.”
--With assistance from Supunnabul Suwannakij and Anuchit Nguyen in Bangkok. Editors: Tony Jordan, John Brinsley
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By Daniel Ten Kate and Suttinee Yuvejwattana