Tale from the Bangkok Flood 2011
I recently had the opportunity to learn that a classmate of mine, Steve VanDyke has moved to Thailand. He lives with his family in Bangkok and has seen the recent flooding first hand. He was kind enough to answer my request for a description of what life in a flooding Bangkok was like. What follows is his response, in his own words. Photos taken by Brandon Hathcock and Bret Cox follow as well.
“Naam thwum.” In the Thai language it means flood. This word has been used a lot here lately in Bangkok, Thailand. Though flooding is imminent here every year during monsoon season, this year has been different. Thailand is a low elevation country, and it’s capital, Bangkok, is poised on the Chao Phraya River, which flows right through the city. Along with the hundreds of canals, this river is the outlet of all the rain water from the northern regions. into the Gulf of Thailand. This year’s monsoon season, Thailand has seen its heaviest rain and worst flooding in decades, and as far as I can tell by talking to the locals, this is the first time in anyone’s memory that Bangkok has been under threat of such flooding. Everywhere you look, businesses and residences have taken measures against flood waters damaging their homes and businesses. Sandbags, plastic, wood and concrete barriers surround entrances to keep flood waters out. Bangkok has really been under threat for the last 3 weeks- from the middle of October until now, but northern Thailand has been under intense rain and flood waters since July. It is really a terrible disaster. Over 400 people have died, and millions have been displaced from their homes which are under 6-9 feet of water some places; and it hasn’t receded. Not only is there tons of water bearing down on the capital city from the north, more rain and high tides have elevated the threat of flooding in the city. The Thai government has done its best to keep high flood waters from the main part of the city to protect the economy, essentially sacrificing outer suburban areas to keep relief efforts going from the city, and keeping the tourist trade alive and well. Hopefully, the plan is to help those people whose houses have been underwater with cleanup and recovery once the water does recede, but that could also last until mid December. Still, the threat of flooding coming into the downtown area has been so strong, many stores have been bought out of their dry goods as well as drinking water in preparation.
In late October, the flooding finally hit the northern part of Bangkok, as levees and dikes started to be overrun with the the flood runoff. Many international businesses and factories were completely underwater and remain that way, so not only are there many people displaced, there are also thousands without work due to factory closings. Global distributions have been affected, as many factories here in Bangkok are hubs for major distributors. The Coke and Pepsi plants are also affected, leaving grocery and convenience store shelves empty. Many people who live in Bangkok have boarded and sandbagged their houses and left for dry ground in cities like Pattaya and Hua Hin. Normally these are resort towns, but many have gone to ride out the flood in safety.
As for my family and I, why do we stay? We’ve been asked this over and over by many of our Thai friends. “Will you leave and go back to the U.S. to get away from the flood?” I look at them and tell them, “This is my home now. Why would I leave? I want to be able to help where I am needed.” We have gotten many responses, but the one that sticks with me the most is one that said very seriously: “Thank you Steve.” Many times, Christians are accused of being hypocritical. Always talking and not actually doing. We feel that God has brought us here to live, work alongside and help the Thai people when needed, and in return we hope that our Thai friends will be willing to help us if needed. Jesus told us that the greatest commandment is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and all your strength. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:38,39. What kind of neighbor would we be if we fled the very place that we feel we are called to live? So, we stay.
Right now, there are many flood relief efforts going on, from filling sandbags, to transporting drinking water and food to those displaced. Within the city, helping locals move furniture and other valuables into upper floors is another way to help. In the future, there will be enough cleanup efforts to help people whose homes have been underwater for many months. Much of this water is washed down from farmlands and villages where it is mixed with feces and other sewage, so there is much danger from infection and disease. Medical teams have been on high alert all over to aid the ones who have fallen ill, and many more will fall ill due to the unclean conditions from the flood waters. Many people have died from drowning. Think of having to wade waste deep down your own street, not being able to see what you are walking on or around. Several deaths have occurred due to their foot getting caught in underbrush. Some deaths have occurred due to electrocution from water reaching electrical outlets and breaker boxes while power is still on.
The relief efforts continue in the places most hard hit. There are many opportunities to help, from filling bags with food and other needs, filling sandbags and loading them into trucks. Of course, this is while the flood waters are still moving slowly through the capitol. As we all know, from Hurricane Katrina, the aftermath leaves even more possibilities of helping, through cleanup and repair work, the relief efforts will go on through early next year. Until then, residents of Thailand press on, helping each other and working together.