Thailand flooding: Fear brings people together

Updated 2:42 PM EDT, Fri October 14, 2011

Story highlights

Thailand's monsoonal flooding is the worst in decades

Fears spread that Bangkok will drown

Torrents of water gush through hard-hit Auytthaya

People help one another on streets where deadly clashes took place last year

(CNN) —  

Thailand’s rice bowl is now Thailand’s nightmare.

The Chao Phraya River delta nourishes the nation’s vast rice paddies. But Friday, the river and its many tributaries eyed the capital, Bangkok, like a ferocious animal stalking its prey.

Monsoonal rains have flooded Thailand’s plains and now the bursting river threatens to drown Bangkok.

The water has already turned parking lots into marinas, markets into lakes and houses into homes suitable only for fish. It has gushed into houses of the holy – Buddhist temples stood amid rising water – and into sanctuaries of the vulnerable.

Fifteen elephants, including seven mothers with babies and a 9-year-old known for its painting skills, are stranded on top of Ayutthaya’s Royal Elephant Kraal. The elephants climbed on top of the building last week and are going hungry now that food can only be brought in small quantities on rowing boats. Elephants can swim but the babies might drown in an attempt to escape.

In Bangkok and other deluged cities and towns, the strong carried the feeble on their backs. The young aided the old.

Everyone helped each other.

It was hard to imagine that last year, Red Shirts battled Yellow Shirts in deadly political street protests that prompted a state of emergency in Thailand and left a nation deeply divided.

Disaster brought them back together this week.

An English Facebook page set up to help foreigners in Thailand saw a frenzy of action Friday.

“Kidney failure patients’d like to get in dialysis process can contact HSRI co. with NE Kidney Medico”

“Free shuttle bus from Dusit Thani hotel to TU DOME available for donation stuffs logistic tomorrow”

“Slippers (foam type) needed for any sizes at Don Muang Evacuation Cent.”

“Both lanes of Bangkruy-Sainoi Rd… flooded”

With 283 people dead and another 8 million affected by the flooding, the fears were real in Bangkok.

Workers stuffed sandbags furiously and shored up barriers. Evacuation centers began to fill with people.

Banjong Palim, 43, said he had never seen anything like this in his lifetime. He was forced to flee when his suburban Bangkok home drowned.

Some recalled the devastating 2004 tsunami that wiped out everything with walls of water. And panicked.

Ed White watched the river flow over containment walls in Ayutthaya. He stacked the furniture as high as he could get it in his house in there, and felt lucky it was made of concrete and brick, not wood, like so many traditional Thai homes.

White grew up in Ocean City, Maryland. He was used to hurricanes and the Atlantic’s fury. But this was different.

The water was not raging. There weren’t torrents.

It just kept inching upward. Slowly, but surely.

At the market where White gets his hair cut, people scurried, spreading rumors born from fear. In two hours, they said, everything would be under water. The flood was coming! The flood was coming!

White moved to Thailand in 2003 to work for a rubber company. Friday, he said he had moved into a second-floor company apartment in Bangkok, confident he would be safe there. Meanwhile, his employer had made a fortress out of the rubber factory, erecting concrete barriers around everything as though it were a war zone.

For many it was a losing battle.

The military helped evacuate them, whisking them away by boat or carrying them through chest-high water.

Just about every day now, rain has come down hard, exacerbating worries. This is already the worst flooding Thailand has seen in decades. Some wondered Friday how much worse it could get.

The government’s Flood Relief Centre chief said that Bangkok would be spared. But with a chance of thunderstorms in the forecast for the next few days, reassurances Friday were difficult to swallow.