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FLOOD MANAGEMENT

Command centre set up for Bangkok

Preparations for Tropical Storm Gaemi underway; Army units on standby

An ad-hoc operations centre was set up yesterday to cope with the flood situation in Bangkok and elsewhere for a 30-day period as a result of Tropical Storm Gaemi, which is expected to hit Thailand by the weekend.

The centre, dubbed the Joint Operations Centre on Water Drainage in Low-Lying Areas and based in Bangkok Thai Tower off Phya Thai Road, is scheduled to remain operational until October 31. It is coordinating relevant operations among agencies involved, said Royol Jitdon, a key man in the government's overall flood and water-management operations.

Among operations undertaken are the use of naval vessels propelling water in rivers and canals out to sea outlets, and stricter regulations on docking of private ships to prevent them from obstructing the currents in all waterways, he said. Efficiency in water drainage had increased by half after water pumps were moved from previous locations and placed in strategic areas.

Science Minister Plodprasob Surassawadee, as the head of Royol's committee, called on members of the public "not to leave home" on October 7-9, when Gaemi-influenced heavy downpours are expected throughout Thailand. "That would allow officials to work at their highest capacity. Heads of communities should also call meetings to discuss emergency plans, but stockpiling of foods is not yet needed," he added.

Unused facilities of 11 Army units based in Bangkok have been readied as makeshift water-catchment areas to accommodate extra rainwater volume to be brought by Gaemi. The largest area for water retention is a space between Phaholyothin Road and Vibhavadi-Rangsit highway, connecting parts of the 2nd Cavalry Division and 1st Infantry Regiment (King's guards), Defence Minister Sukampol Suwannathat said.

Soldiers - as many as one-sixth of the entire Army - are also on standby for help if called upon, while the 11 Army bases could be utilised as parking spaces to avoid the scattered storage of cars in spots around Bangkok and neighbouring provinces. In addition to the military-enabled catchment areas, a total of 70,000 rai around Rangsit Canal in northwest Bangkok and Saraburi has also been readied for water retention.

Defence Ministry spokesman Colonel Thanathip Sawangsaeng said a critical rainfall rate was 60mm an hour. If not drained within an hour, this amount of rainfall would result in a 12-hour inundation in Bangkok, but could be alleviated by extra retention areas at the Army bases. However if the rainfall exceeds 100 mm/hour, he said, "the public should remain calm and help one another".

Systematic drainage at key dams in Rayong, Chachoengsao and Nakhon Nayok would be carried out until October 8 to help ease the volume in the ever-brimming Bang Pakong River in Prachin Buri and Chon Buri, which adjoin eastern Bangkok, said director of the National Disaster Warning Centre director Somsak Chaosuwan.

Ten people have been killed in flood-related incidents so far, said the Department of Disease Control. Eight of these were due to drowning, another to electrocution and the cause of the other was unknown. Two of the dead were children. Members of the public are advised to wear life jackets when in flood water, because cramps could lead to drowning.


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