Rising Floodwaters Cause Bangkok Airport to Close
Published: October 26, 2011 (Issue # 1680)
BANGKOK — Advancing floodwaters in Thailand breached barriers protecting Bangkok’s second airport Tuesday, halting commercial flights at a complex that also houses the country’s flood relief headquarters and thousands of displaced people.
The flooding at Don Muang airport, which is primarily used for domestic flights, is one of the biggest blows yet to government efforts to prevent the sprawling capital from being swamped. Its effective closure is certain to further erode public confidence in the ability of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration to defend the increasingly anxious metropolis of 9 million people.
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, the country’s main international gateway, has yet to be affected by flooding and flights there were operating normally. Most of the city has been spared inundation so far.
Don Muang has come to symbolize the gravity of the Southeast Asian nation’s deepening crisis, which has seen advancing waters drown a third of the country and kill 366 people over the last three months.
The airport houses the government’s recently established emergency Flood Relief Operations Center, and one of its terminals has been converted into an overcrowded shelter filled with tents for about 4,000 people who fled waterlogged homes.
Somboon Klinchanhom, a 43-year-old civil servant who took refuge there last week, was preparing to move after authorities said the terminal had become too crowded and thousands of people displaced there would be relocated.
“I thought it would be safe and well-protected,” Somboon said of the airport, as she packed her belongings again.
Though floodwaters have yet to spill across Don Muang’s runways, ankle-high water could be seen Tuesday rushing over sandbagged barriers around the airport’s perimeter, swamping internal roads. One vast pool was headed toward two Thai Airways jetliners parked outside a hangar, their wheels wrapped in plastic sheets.
The two main carriers based at Don Muang announced they were suspending operations and diverting flights to Suvarnabhumi because of the flood threat. They are Thai Orient Airlines and Nok Air, which said it was halting flights until Nov. 1.
Capt. Kantpat Mangalasiri, the airport’s director, said Don Muang’s commercial runways would be closed until Nov. 1 to ensure safe aircraft operations.