Readers' Submissions

Megaflood 2011



Firehouse

This has probably been done a few times since it happened but it takes me a while to get round to doing things. I've done a few submissions over the years but fortunately I've never had to cover this subject before.

It is a fact that Thailand floods every year. A lot of people are now asking will it flood again, but they are asking the wrong question. You have to ask how much is it going to flood by. For as long as I have been in Thailand which goes back to the nineties now, Thailand has flooded to varying degrees. Every year in the central plains without fail as runoff from the North works its way out to sea, and also more localised flash flooding such as that which happened in Hat Yai a couple of years back. I can also remember parts of Koh Phangnan and Samui being under water for a few weeks about seven or eight years ago. It is a fact that Thailand floods every year.

So it was bearing all this in mind that when people started talking about 2011 being particularly bad I didn't really pay much notice, because like I said before Thailand floods every year. Every year on the news you see pictures of places like Ayutthaya and Chainat under water, tough for them but you never really think about it too much.

We live in Bang Bua Thong (Place of the Golden Lotus, you have to love the name) in Nonthaburi province which, although it's a separate province it is just a suburb of Bangkok really. To anyone who's interested in this kind of stuff the Purple Line Skytrain Extension is coming out this way along Rattana Thibet Road and going all the way to Bang Yai. I find this incredible really as it really is a long way from the centre of Bangkok. The terminus will be on Kanchanapisek Road (Ring Road on the western side) which, if you follow it North goes up to the Bang Pa-in interchange. So that is the geography lesson.

There have been many changes in Nonthaburi over the past few years and where in many places you might have had rice fields, now there are loads of estates of townhouse and detatched houses for people to commute into Bangkok. In fact, since 2000 the population in Bang Bua Thong and Bang Yai has increased by around 200% as people move to the area and there has been a lot of land speculation, especially with the skytrain coming in 2014 (supposedly).

Anyway, I digress. Back to the floods. So around the start of September we are listening to the television news all the time and as time goes on you can follow the water moving down the country as province after province is inundated. I'm still not too bothered as it's all a long way away right. I can't remember exactly when this was but it was probably around the time that Ayutthaya was flooded that we started to worry a little bit. This is only just over an hour's drive away and people were talking about how if you lived in Bangkok then you should prepare for the worst. Around this time a lot of businesses started to brick up the front of their shops and a lot of people started to do the same with their house too. You wonder to yourself if you should do the same and you see some people who do nothing whilst others have 5-foot high walls. None of it mattered in the end though 55555555.

The weather was good driving weather for the motorbike with not too much sun so my wife and I would take the children out for a drive around the rice fields to see what was going on out and about. Yes the fields are flooded but aren't they always at this time of year? Then I think it was probably around the start of October that Pathum Thani went. Pathum Thani is the next province to Nonthaburi and it is directly above Bangkok. I remember watching the news on television and seeing places we have gone shopping before, like the Tesco Lotus on the main road that was now under water. That was probably when I started to get seriously worried as it was so close. And where we lived too things were starting to get a little crazy. We would still go out for a drive every day to survey what was happening but slowly as October went on roads started to become impassable and travel was more and more difficult.

I spent hours queuing to buy sandbags. How we laughed at those people in Bangkok who were worried about the availability of drinking water. We had more pressing needs at hand like actually protecting where we lived and breathed, ate food and drank, loved and laughed with our loved ones. There was a good spirit amongst the people and a lot of solidarity with everyone trying to help each other and I have to say that I saw the best of Thai people during that time. I also saw the worst but I'll come to that later. Amongst the foreigners everyone was looking out for everyone else which is how it should be all the time but alas..



Sandbags at the canal by the market before the flood. The water is about five foot higher than the pavement and this was before the water hit!

Maybe around the 10th of October Bang Bua Thong Hospital went and this is a ten minute drive from my house. It is by a canal though so it was always going to happen. It was on the news and the government had to ship all of the patients out of there. It is surreal watching local places you know on television. Our housing estate was putting up massive sandbag and gravel barriers in preparation as was everywhere. The main road in Bang Bua Thong is Bang Kruai Sai Noi Road and all along one side where the water was coming from the local government had made a big earth wall to stop the water from coming. But as time went on the water got higher as it had nowhere to flow too. So the wall got higher too.

I was going to Rachada every day for work reasons at this time which can be a bit of a nightmare with the traffic in the morning getting past the Mall Ngam Wong Wan and going down Prachachuen to get onto Rachada. We were told by the local government in the housing estate that the signal for evacuation (or get to high ground now) was to be a single firework with a loud bang. I get a phone call from my wife one day, around the 12th or 13th of October I think to tell me that the firework has just gone off. She is hysterical and going crazy down the phone at me worrying about what to do about the children. We have no previous knowledge of what to do in a flood of this proportion. I get back from Rachada to Ban Bua Thong in about 30 minutes on the bike which considering the traffic in Bangkok is like Schumacher driving. My heart is pounding as I don't even know if I will be able to get there or not if the water has already come. Anyway, no problems, it was a false alarm. There was a flood wall in Pathum Thani that had collapsed and the powers that be were erring on the safe side.

At this time you could still get to Bangkok no problem but anywhere North was very difficult. I think we all know how Thai people drive. Well if you add impassable roads, large amounts of water and no one paying any attention to driving on the left or the right then you have some idea of the chaos that was happening. But at the same time everyone just accepts that this is how things are. On a side note I have to say that you can't beat a Honda Wave. The thing just does not die. I hade the exhaust right under water and it changes sound but just keeps on going. These automatics die straight away. I renamed it the Submarine.

My wife and I got everything we could upstairs. The only things that were left were two wardrobes and a big television cabinet that were too heavy too carry. My children found all this very exciting but there is an uncertainty hanging over you as you don't know what to expect. We ask ourselves how bad will it be? Can we stay? Where do we go? From the moment of waking up in the morning to the moment you go to bed it is hanging over you.

We could still get into Bang Bua Thong centre on the weekend of the 15th and 16th of October but it was hard. The traffic was bad and now the earth wall was a good six foot high above the road. Six foot! And the water is right up to the top and seeping through at the bottom. There is an Irish guy who lives on my estate and I remember talking to him about this and we were both saying how if that wall went then we would be totally fxxxed. No two ways about it. There is a sense of unbelievability in all of this. You see it all happening but you can't quite believe that it is happening to you. Stuff like this happens to other people right? Wrong, it can happen to anyone as it did to me.

So we get reports of estate after estate nearby that has gone and you look at your own place and think, well maybe they have protected us well. Army trucks evacuating people up the road. The army did a great job in my opinion and worked tirelessly to help the people. On the 17th the first security by the main road went. There was a big group of people watching by the gate as the water rose. I waded down to 7-11 to get a couple of beers and hang around to see what would happen next. The current was strong even though the water wasn't that deep at this time. It was then that I saw my first boat going down the main road. Thai PBS had a news crew right outside my estate and they were interviewing people. Surreal seeing all of this.

The next day our house flooded. I made it back from Rachada around twoish and the barriers at security made no difference really as the water just came up through the drains. Slowly but surely the estate flooded. Little fish appeared with it and my children were excited about seeing them and they started to play in the water. Little did I know that I wouldn't see the road dry again for another two months. My sister in law had had to leave her place a couple of days before and we had gone to help her when we could still make it there. Now they came to pick us up. We left early evening on the 18th. First thing to do was to carry the children out with some clothes for them and then my wife and went back for our two rabbits and clothes for us. It was probably about a metre deep at that time. One strange thing was an old Thai man coming the other way (the pickup was waiting on the nearest dry land about a ten minute walk away) who in very good English told me to look out for snakes as he had just seen two.

We get to the car and then try to get to Bang Yai to think about what to do. We had done everything we could for the house so now it was just us. My idea was to get a hotel in Bang Yai so we could be close to the house but once we get there it was soon obvious that it was impossible. Everywhere is full and the water keeps on coming. Thais are panicking and no one knows what to do. No one is in control and no one is taking charge of the situation. It's chaos. Not a good place to be. Thais are normally quite 'sabai sabai' people. You get the odd one who is a bit uptight but on the whole they are quite gentle easygoing people. Take all that away and it's not a great environment to be in. Panic and hysteria, a huge flood and Thais, not a good combination.

So we drive around for ages and eventually end up staying in a hotel near Victory Monument for one night and then we go to another place on Rachada till the end of the month. I must recommend it actually. Diamond Residence Rachada near Suttiasan MRT. I think it worked out at 7,000 for ten nights but it is very nice. Big rooms, all modern facilities, clean and well run. The security guy looked after our rabbits too as we couldn't take them into the room. I think he liked having something to do. Everyone was very sympathetic to our plight and the staff went out of their way to look after us. It wasn't easy walking out with the kids but we had found a place to stay. I consider myself fortunate in that I had the money to go somewhere. Many didn't. They either stayed in the water (like an on his ass English guy I know) or went to one of the evacuation centres. The one at Don Meuang became flooded itself later on!

My sister in law took my oldest son to Rayong for a while to help us. On the Saturday my wife and I had to go back to get more clothes. The Mall Ngam Wong Wan is the start of Nonthaburi as you go from Bangkok and then you drive west along Rattana Thibet all the way to the ring road to get to Bang Yai / Bang Bua Thong. Apart from all the cars parked on bridges it all seems fairly normal until you cross the river and then you can see. Huge areas are flooded. We end up by Big King and then there was nothing for it but to walk. Thais, ever the opportunist are running boat services and one guy had a jet ski. There was a big truck selling plastic boats. The boats are a rip-off though. Nothing like making money out of someone else's misery for a Thai. They're good at that. Would it be the same in the UK where I come from. I've asked myself this and I like to think that the government would have done a lot to help people or that people would help out of the kindness of their own hearts. I'll never know though at the end of the day. I can't fault the army though because they did do a great job. I just wish there were more of them.

So we walked and it took us about two hours to get to our house from the nearest dry point. The quiet of it all. I wondered if this is what Bangkok was like years ago when it really was a city of canals, "The Venice of the East". And the fish! There were some absolutely huge fish around, some a good two foot long. Thais eagerly spearfishing from boats where they could. Eventually we get to our house.

Cockroaches : they love life. We had these foam boxes that were now floating around in the house and on every one were loads of cockroaches clinging on to life. Nowhere to go. I've read that along with rats they survive nuclear holocaust longer than other animals and I can believe it the way they clung on to those boxes.


Bangkok flooding

This was the view from our front door.


We stayed for a couple of hours, got what we needed and left. I ended up floating my son out in a foam box to make things easier and we had a big washing bowl to float the rest of our stuff out in.


Bangkok flooding

Me with my son as we go to leave.


One thing I do like about Thais is that they are very happy go lucky people. One group of people we met in our estate who were also getting what they could were all smiles and jokes and we got a nice picture of them. If it was the UK people would probably be crying about all the stuff they lost, where they were going to go etc. I suppose one thing is that it was hot and the water not too cold though. That makes a difference I'm sure.


Happy flood victims! You can't see too clearly but trust me they're smiling.


We made better going getting back to Bang Yai and it only took an hour and a half. I got my first emergency pack off the army who all thought it hilarious that a foreigner was in the flood. We had a few words. I got talking to some guys who were also walking to Bang Yai. We establish that I can speak Thai so they start asking me if it floods in England. I tell them it does but not like this and I've never been in a flood like this. He says he hasn't either, we all laugh and continue walking. There was a group of about ten people trying to float a taxi out on bamboo poles and other bits of wood. I felt sorry for the guy because that is his living there and how much does he work without it. Everywhere were people with various plastic bowls and bags and just a general Diaspora of people trying to get what they needed and go. But everyone was happy enough though.

picture 5 :


Bangkok flooding

I don't know who is happier, my wife or my son!


So we made it back to Rachada where we saw the news and it was like earlier in the day was another planet because now we're back in our nice clean hotel with a flat screen television to look at.

We stayed until the end of the month until I could finish what I had to do and then we went up to Buriram where we have another house. Out in the country, far away from it all. The children could run around and I started to unwind, doing stuff in the garden and getting down with village life. Had a great month there.


Buriram


Buriram


Buriram

Fruits of my labour.


We moved back on the first of December by which time, although the street was still flooded the water had just gone out of the house a few days before which was important because it was a lot easier to clean than if it had already dried. We got to Mochit, took a taxi as far as we could and then a boat took us all the way to our door. The house was a mess. This browny black gunk over everywhere that the water had been. I measured it at about 50 cm inside the house and about 150 cm in the street. The sandbags had made absolutely no difference whatsoever. The same as all the bricks had made no difference. They were a total waste of money. If it ever happens again I will save my money, leave earlier and go and stay in a nice hotel.

The first thing my wife did when we got back was clean the downstairs toilet. I think that she felt she had to make a start, just to see something look how it should do. We spent all of the next day on our hands and knees. I found wire wool to be the best thing and it all came off easy enough. About a month afterwards I decorated the walls. The water finally went around the middle of December which meant that we were flooded for two months. There were piles of rubbish everywhere and we had a dumping ground by the tennis courts that must have been five metres high and fifty metres long. Anything that was chipboard had just disintegrated. Out of our two wardrobes that we couldn't get upstairs one had already collapsed by the time we got back and I remember asking my wife what to do with the other one. As I grabbed hold of it the decision was taken away from me as it fell apart in my hands.

All in all the flood probably cost me about 70,000 in one way or another. I do consider myself one of the lucky ones. Plenty worse off than me and many are still recovering even now. I admire Thai people for their resilience in adversity and good nature. On our estate now everyone talks a lot more than they did before and a lot of friends have been made. Let'vs just hope it doesn't happen again.

My final point is directed at you Stickman, and don't take this personally but more as constructive criticism of what you write. I've been reading your column for a long time and on the whole I like it. I don't really care about the bar scene but I do find some of your observations on living in Thailand quite good. During the red and yellow shirt protests I thought your coverage was quite good, well presented and it gave a hint of (maybe I'm mistaken) journalistic ambition. I thought, maybe he's not just another hack trying to make a story out of the same old common denominator that so many in Thailand do.

During the flood you showed that this wasn't the case. In a period of time where an absolutely huge portion of the country is under water and millions of people are affected your coverage was abysmal. Where were the photos showing people what was going on in affected areas? Instead you chose to focus on the areas in downtown Bangkok that were unaffected, the places where tourists go. Okay so that is your readership but with a story of this magnitude I expected more. I may be wrong but to me it just looked a little bit like you didn't want to get your feet wet. I'm sure there would have been loads of stories and photo opportunities out there for someone with your Thai language ability. And all you had to do was to get the skytrain to Chatuchak Park and start chatting!

I left my house on the 19th of October I think. Your column for the 23rd was' When Whorists Go Mainstream', for the 30th it was' Great Quotes or Overused Clichés', and for the 6th of November it was' Fred and the TLL Girls'. WE both know that during this time there was only one story happening and yet you chose to ignore it until the 13th where you let us know that we cloud still buy drinking water. Something to think about for you there. Maybe I'm a bit biased because I was caught up in it but so were millions of Thais and we do all live in the same country. I guess I expected more and I was disappointed. I'll know not too expect anything next time, but if I'm looking for a new perspective on Nana Plaza then I know where to look.



Stickman's thoughts:

Great perspective and report of what it was really like to be involved.

On the point of me not covering the floods, the mainstream media's coverage far exceeded anything I could come up with. The disaster was so big and so widespread that one man really couldn't do anything over and above what entire media organisations were throwing all their resources at. I didn't see a lot of point in jumping on the skytrain and going to the last stop to take photos and interview people when the newspapers and television was full of exactly this already. I wouldn't have been adding anything new. I was getting a lot of email from people about what was happening in downtown Bangkok and that is what I concentrated on, providing updates of what was happening downtown. At the end of the day, that is what the majority of readers want to know about.