Floods hit Chiang Mai
Locals say development, night safari is blocking run-off from Doi Suthep
A Chiang Mai resident rests after frantically moving his household effects to higher ground yesterday.
Flash-flooding hit several parts of this northern province yesterday morning, prompting many people to point the finger at the Chiang Mai Night Safari and other new developments.
"We never suffered floods until late last year," said councillor Prasit Karbkham of the Nong Khwai tambon administrative organisation yesterday. He was adamant tree clearing in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park to make way for the night safari was the cause.
The night safari officially opened earlier this year.
"We are now increasingly worried that severe flooding may occur because the night safari is reportedly preparing to build an elephant park," he said.
Another resident was afraid the changing environment would bring fatal floods and landslides like those that struck Uttaradit in May.
Homes in the tambon of Nong Khwai in Chiang Mai's Hang Dong district were yesterday under more than 80 centimetres of water.
Flooding reached many parts of Chiang Mai city. Residents queued up for sandbags at the Chiang Mai Municipality. Tourists were stranded in hotels in Sri Ping Muang.
Sandbags formed a temporary barrier for rising flood waters, which were approaching a metre in the worst-hit spots.
"This is run-off water from the mountain. It's not like last year when the overflowing Ping River sent floods to town," Mayor Boonlert Buranupakorn said.
Hotel operators and Chiang Mai Night Bazaar merchants were keeping an anxious eye on the situation. Last year, flooding ravaged the bazaar and other commercial areas causing hundreds of millions of baht in damage.
Chaiyaphan Praphasawat, director of the Chiang Mai-based Community Rights Institute, blamed the night safari, new housing estates and roads, as well as the Chiang Mai University Mae Hia agricultural research centre and an international horticulture exposition for the environment changes around Doi Suthep.
"They have changed the water flow," he said. Chaiyaphan was one of the leaders behind the anti-night safari movement.
He complained that poor city planning had left Chiang Mai at the mercy of floods.
He warned that two villages in the tambon of Nong Khwai were at risk of landslides now that more trees were being uprooted for the development of the night safari's new elephant park.
Safari executive Uppatham Pawaputanont argued heavy rain was the cause, not the wildlife park.
"We don't have any buildings obstructing water down off Doi Suthep," he said.
Surachai Tuamsomboon heads the Suthep-Pui National Park. He jumped to the defence of the night safari and insisted heavy rain since early July meant the land could no longer absorb it.
"That's why there is flooding," Surachai said.
Downpours continued in many parts of Chiang Mai yesterday. By 3am, flood waters had risen two metres in the Mae Hia Tunnel. Several vehicles were stranded but there were no injuries.
"We have closed the tunnel. It will reopen only after we pump out all the water," local traffic police chief Major Chatchai Chuthai said.
Flooding and landslides paralysed traffic and a Mai Malai-Pa Pae highway was temporarily impassable to larger vehicles.
The Mae Rim River broke its banks and flooded more than 1,000 homes.
The weather bureau yesterday forecast more rain for Chiang Mai. It also warned residents of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Phayao and Nan to prepare for flash-floods and landslides.
In Lampang, torrential rain brought floods that damaged hundreds of homes in Mae Mo, Hang Chat and Koh Kha districts.
Resident Jantip Lhasanlue was reported missing after a flash-flood swept through her home.