Unprecedented floods devastate Chiang Mai
Roads, rail lines cut, leaving tourism in tatters and many businesses in despair for the second year in a row
An aerial view of the heavily flooded area in Chiang Maiís Hang Dong district yesterday.
Chiang Mai is reeling under unprecedented flooding with businesses suffering huge losses, the tourism industry in tatters, schools being closed and train services being suspended.
Since floods hit the northern capital early on Monday, hotels and tour companies have received massive cancellations from tourists concerned about their safety and disruptions to their tour programmes.
Kunchit Changsuwan, chairman of the tourism business federation, said riverside hotels had been badly hurt while many shops were now closed for fear of a repeat of last year's devastating flooding.
He said tourists could only get to Chiang Mai by plane and certain buses as some roads and the train service have been cut.
Chiang Mai Governor Suwat Tantipat said the floodwaters should drop by tomorrow as a result of drainage efforts by the local authorities. He said flood water had not inundated financial districts in urban areas like Chang Khlan Road and the Nite Bazaar shopping complex.
The affected areas are mostly residential located in outer districts.
The governor said drainage efforts needed to be stepped up as weather authorities had reported Storm Phra Phirun was expected to reach Thailand by Friday.
Last night, the State Railway Authority had cancelled all trains between Chiang Mai and Bangkok because flooding had damaged a portion of track in Lampang. A senior railway official said it would take about three days before services resume.
Sangworn Santisuk, president of the Thai Hotels Association's northern region, said of the 10,000 hotel rooms in the city, about 400 are near the river.
"Right now we are enjoying an occupancy rate of 50 per cent, but that could drop. We will have to closely monitor the situation," he said.
On Monday, tourists were stranded at their hotels in Chiang Mai township because of the inundation.
Rising floodwaters forced many schools in Chiang Mai to close yesterday and students in several dormitories were advised to return home.
Nittaya Bodhirak, the dormitory guardian at Sacred Heart School, said: "We are concerned about the children's well-being if the flooding gets worse. So, we have contacted parents to pick up their children."
She advised students to follow radio news reports to keep updated on when classes would resume.
Sacred Heart, on Charoen-prathet Road, was flooded along with Chairot Witthaya and Regina Coeli schools, plus Montfort College. All suspended classes for at least a day.
At the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, business operators filled sandbags as a barrier to block the floods.
Last year, big floods ravaged the city's commercial and tourist zone, causing damage worth hundreds of millions of baht.
Yesterday's floods came after the Ping River overflowed due to heavy downpours and run-off water from upstream. Despite last year's devastating floods and a government promise to prevent future inundations, Chiang Mai residents have been again left to fight floods with just sandbags and pumps.
Even residents living a fair distance from the Ping River suffered, as many roads such as Huay Kaew, Khuang Singh intersection and several small lanes were under water due to poor drainage.
The flooding also threatened many historical sites.
Sahawat Naennha, who heads a local fine-arts office, voiced concern over the ancient city of Wiang Kum Kam, which lies in a flat area that could easily flood. "We have pumps ready but if there is too much water, this measure will not be enough," he said.
Sahawat was also concerned about the Phra That Chao Kulamak in the 1,300-year-old Rommanee-yaram Temple in Chiang Mai city.
"There are cracks in it and we are worried that heavy rain could damage it," Sahawat said. He said his office was in the process of requesting funds to renovate and reinforce this religious site.
Meanwhile, in Mae Rim district, more than 1,800 houses were flooded and officials were handing out relief items to victims.
Officials at the Hydrology and Water Management Centre for the Upper Northern Region said the situation in Chiang Mai could return to normal if there were no more downpours.
The northern weather bureau expects only scattered rain in Chiang Mai over the next two days. However, it warned that cloudbursts would spread over the upper North on Friday and Saturday.
Residents living by the Ping and other rivers in Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Phetchabun were warned to watch out for possible overflows this weekend.
In a related development, Mae Hong Son governor Direk Konkleeb urgently instructed all district chiefs in the province to prepare for possible flash floods and landslides. "We have evacuation plan ready," he said.
In Lampang, the body of a flood victim was discovered yesterday. The woman, aged 50, disappeared when floods raged through her home early on Monday.
In Uttaradit, more than 50 families in Tambon Nang Phraya were evacuated on Monday night after a landslide and floods damaged local farms.