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PM takes charge of flood crisis

Posted by arnon_k On October - 22 - 2011

Disaster law invoked as deluge enters city

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has invoked the disaster prevention law to take full control of flood operations as run-off from the North has started surging into Bangkok.

Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra yesterday said there were signs the northern run-off has entered the capital.

First, the water level in Khlong 2 in Rangsit continued to rise despite the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) opening its floodgate wider.

Second, the rising floodwater broke an embankment at Phahon Yothin Road near Khlong Rangsit in Pathum Thani, causing water to spill on to the streets.

However, the governor said flood barriers are expected to be put in place in time to ease the impact on central Bangkok.

Soldiers have now been deployed in flood-prone areas to watch for any emergencies, the governor said, adding that military trucks are ready to evacuate people.

In the face of an increasingly tense battle with the rising water and what appeared to be inter-agency bickering, Prime Minister Yingluck yesterday invoked the disaster prevention law to consolidate power over flood management efforts.

Section 31 of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act (2007) gives the prime minister full control over officials around the country, including in Bangkok.

Under the law, all officials must report directly to the prime minister as the director of the relief operation. Those who refuse to follow orders can be prosecuted for malfeasance or serious dereliction of duty.

Following the invocation of the law, the premier ordered the BMA to open all sluice gates in Bangkok to allow the overflow from the North to pass through the city and on to the sea. The amount of waterflow will be controlled so the capital is not harmed.

The invocation of the law follows a perceived conflict between City Hall and the government’s Flood Relief Operations Command (Froc).

Despite Froc’s request, the BMA has reportedly refused to open all sluice gates in Bangkok to allow floodwater to drain through the city’s canal network.

“I’m asking the BMA to fully perform its duty,” said Ms Yingluck.

“I’m pleased the BMA will [manage the overflow], and Froc is ready to give support. But if the BMA can’t take care of it, Froc will take over.”

The premier has also appointed a committee to manage flood drainage in disaster areas chaired by Veera Wongsaengnak, former deputy chief of the Royal Irrigation Department.

The committee, made up of former RID chiefs and experts in water management and geoinformatics, will lay down guidelines for Froc to deal with the floods. It will also work with the BMA regarding waterflow management.

Ms Yingluck said some agencies were ordered to open all floodgates for full water drainage but later checks found they did not comply. It is understood she was referring to City Hall.

In invoking the disaster law, Ms Yingluck also ordered the Defence Ministry and the army to protect key places, including the Grand Palace, other palaces, Siriraj Hospital, flood barrier lines, utilities units and Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports.

Froc yesterday also set up a forward command, headed by permanent secretary for interior Pranai Suwanrath, to oversee flood operations in east Bangkok.

Responding to the invocation of the disaster prevention law, MR Sukhumbhand insisted it does not affect City Hall’s powers to manage the flood.

He said the law actually enables the BMA to instruct state agencies that do not come under City Hall under normal circumstances to assist in flood relief operations in the capital.

MR Sukhumbhand rejected suggestions of a conflict between him and the government on how to deal with floods.

“There are just different interpretations,” he said, adding that City Hall has cooperated by opening some sluice gates in Bangkok, though not all of them.

Meanwhile, some areas of Don Muang and Laksi districts in Bangkok have been inundated by overflow from Khlong Prapa.

Metropolitan Waterworks Authority governor Charoen Phassa yesterday said run-off had burst through a flood barrier at Khlong Bang Luang in Bangkok Yai district and swept into Khlong Prapa.

The incident caused the canal to overflow into Don Muang and Chaeng Wattana Road in Laksi.

The overflow problem has been brought under control and the floods there are expected to recede in the next few days, Mr Charoen said.

Don Muang district office chief Phumiphat Damrongkiatisak said Khlong Prapa’s rising levels breached a barrier and flooded a 500m section of Song Prapa Road in Don Muang. Efforts were being made to pump the water into Khlong Prem Prachakorn.

MR Sukhumbhand, however, expressed concern that if the water in Khlong Prapa continues to rise, then floods will be inevitable on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road.

The governor said that more than 1,400 residents in Don Muang affected by floods have been evacuated to two evacuation shelters in the area.

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