5 Oct 2011

Thailand's deadly monsoon season

With over 200 already dead, Channel 4 News Asia Correspondent John Sparks sees for himself the devastation caused by the worst monsoon season Thailand has ever recorded.

On the road up from Bangkok, we saw water-logged paddy fields and a few muddy tracks but nothing that anyone could call ‘severe’.  I was beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about.

I quickly changed my mind when we entered a place called Lop Buri. As we neared the centre of this non-descript town in central Thailand, the streets disappeared under a rippling blanket of water. Further on, we could see that the Lop Buri River had burst its banks. Its murky brown waters were not on a leisurely journey to the Gulf of Thailand – this was a furious torrent, streaming through the middle of the community. Homes and businesses had been swept away – and in some cases their owners had gone with them.

This year’s monsoon season has been a bad one – in fact the authorities now say it has been the worst ever recorded. Two months of heavy rain and a series of tropical storms have inundated 56 of Thailand’s 77 provinces. Unfortunately, it is far from over – the government will put more water into the country’s river system tomorrow when they start reducing the pressure on a number of dangerously full dams. More rain is expected as well. The unwelcome remnants of Typhoon Nalgae – which hit the Chinese coast yesterday – are expected over Thailand tomorrow evening.

The monsoon has been a deadly affair – 224 people are thought to have lost their lives in Thailand – while 164 have died in neighbouring Cambodia. The deputy governor Kaneetip Bunyaket of Lop Buri told me that 14 had died in his community – the majority had been swept away by the current he said.

He arranged for us to take a closer look, putting us in the back of large lorry loaded up with food aid.  Big vehicles like this, now the only way to get around town as the waters are too deep and too swift to risk a journey by foot. As it turned out, the water also did for our food aid lorry. We broke down in the middle of what was once a highway – now urban white water – and we had to blag a lift with an army truck heading in the same direction.

A few hundred metres further on, we found hundreds of people camped out on the highway, for this was the highest point around. Water still raced across the road surface but they’d adapted to the situation – positioning themselves on top of wooden trestles. These make-do platforms served as beds and kitchens and just about kept them out of the water. We spoke to Arvon Tananont and her daughter Sasi Ton Manosujarittham – they said they’d been sleeping there for over a week. Every day they thought the waters would recede but every day it got worse they told me. I didn’t envy them.

We saw the deputy governor our way out of Lop Buri. ‘Pray it doesn’t rain again’ he said as we climbed into our van. I fear his wish will come to nothing. As I write we are crawling through the outskirts of Bangkok – and it is bucketing down. Perhaps Tyhoon Nalgae has come early.