Thailand flooding: Floods Force Thailand to Move Prison Inmates

Hundreds of inmates were evacuated from prisons around Bangkok on Wednesday, and residents stocked up on food or made plans to leave the city as officials warned of severe flooding throughout much of the capital in the coming days.

Corrections officials said that nearly 800 inmates had been moved in buses to prisons on higher ground and that, if necessary, up to 20,000 inmates would be evacuated.

As people in Bangkok’s most threatened neighborhoods moved to higher floors or to other housing, thousands of flood refugees and travelers who were camped at the capital’s domestic airport were being evacuated as floodwaters moved toward the terminal.

The airport, Don Muang, formerly Thailand’s international airport, was closed to commercial flights on Tuesday as flooding entered the area, in a major setback to attempts to protect the city. Runways were reported to be flooded on Wednesday.

The international airport, Suvarnabhumi, continued to operate normally.

Throughout the city, people compared notes and repeated conflicting government statements, trying to determine whether their neighborhoods would be flooded. With Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra having warned Tuesday that some parts of Bangkok could be under five feet of water, there were fears that even the safest spots in the city center might experience substantial flooding.

Officials said floodwaters might stay stagnant in the city’s streets for some time, crippling much of the commerce in the nation’s economic hub.

“After assessing the situation, we expect floodwaters to remain in Bangkok for around two weeks to one month before going into the sea,” Ms. Yingluck said Wednesday. But she said flooding in the capital would not be as severe as in some provinces, where water levels as high as 2 to 3 meters have lingered for weeks.

At least 373 people are reported to have died in Thailand in three months of heavy rain and flooding, which have created vast lakes across low-lying central plains. The floods are the worst the country has seen in half a century.

The government’s increasingly pessimistic statements about the capital’s prospects have touched off a new wave of panic buying. Already some shops are rationing staples like rice, eggs and toilet paper. Bottled water has grown increasingly scarce, with only the most expensive brands remaining on some shelves.

The government has declared a public holiday from Thursday to Monday, when high tides are expected to push back at the runoff flowing through Bangkok’s canals, causing floodwaters to CREST. The holiday is meant to give residents the option of leaving the city; Bangkok’s governor, Sukhumbhand Paribatra, has urged people to leave if they can afford to.