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Bangkok's second airport shuts as floods advance

27 october 2011, 17:45
0
A Thai airways aircraft is surrounded by floodwater at Don Mueang airport in Bangkok. ©AFP
A Thai airways aircraft is surrounded by floodwater at Don Mueang airport in Bangkok. ©AFP
A woman wades through floodwater in Rangsit, Pathum Thani Province, outskirts of Bangkok. ©AFP
A woman wades through floodwater in Rangsit, Pathum Thani Province, outskirts of Bangkok. ©AFP
Bangkok's second airport shut down Tuesday as floodwaters advanced into the Thai capital, forcing authorities to declare a five-day closure of schools and government offices to prepare for the deluge, AFP reports.

The cabinet ordered an October 27-31 holiday for Bangkok and 20 other provinces affected by the kingdom's worst flooding in decades, amid warnings a high tide could surge up the capital's main river and escalate the crisis.

It made the decision at a meeting in Don Mueang airport in the city's north, which handles domestic flights and has also been doubling up as an evacuee shelter and a headquarters for the flood relief operation.

But as the waters that have already flooded several northern and eastern districts of Bangkok closed in, both airlines operating there, Nok Air and Orient Thai, said they were suspending all flights.

"Because a lot of water is creeping into the northern premises of the airport, it could cause planes to slide on the runways," Airports of Thailand said, adding that Don Mueang's two runways would be closed until November 1.

About 100 domestic flights normally operate from the airport each day.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is facing her first major crisis since coming to power in August, said before the cabinet meeting that evacuees sheltering there would also be moved to safety.

"We are concerned about evacuees because there is a problem with travelling here," she said. "We will move them to safe areas."

The public holidays are designed to allow Bangkok's 12 million residents to escape the floods that are creeping towards the city centre after swamping other parts of the nation, killing some 360 people and damaging millions of homes.

Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra made a televised address Tuesday warning residents along the Chao Phraya river in the capital to be on "full alert" after the waterway reached record highs of of 2.30 metres on Monday.

"If the situation continues in these circumstances, the water level this weekend will hit 2.60 metres, while our average flood embankment is 2.50 metres high," he said.

In the city centre, residents were lining up to buy bottled water directly from trucks resupplying shops, after days of panic-buying emptied supermarket shelves.

The central bank said it was still considering whether to shut down financial markets over the newly-declared public holidays.

Information about the floods has often been inconsistent, with politically inexperienced Yingluck apparently at odds with Bangkok's local administration, run by a rival party, and rumours of tensions with the army.

A defence official in Washington said the US navy had withdrawn several ships, including aircraft carriers, sent to help with relief efforts in Thailand after receiving "mixed" messages from the Bangkok government.

"There were two channels (in the Thai government)," the defence official told AFP. "One was saying 'Yes' and one was saying 'No.'"

But Thailand's defence minister, General Yutthasak Sasiprapa, indicated that authorities felt they were able to handle the situation themselves.

"We have not denied their assistance, but we have our own aircraft so we would rather use ours," he told reporters, adding however that he was unclear over the details of the US offer and needed to check with the air force chief.

A spokesman from the US embassy in Bangkok said one ship from the US group had docked in Thailand on October 20 and its helicopters had since been on missions coordinated with the Thai army and other US agencies.

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