The death toll from the 2017 New Year floods (Thai: naam tuam) in southern Thailand reached 36 with at least one major hospital, an airport and many highways forced to close.
Bang Saphan, within Prachuap Khiri Khan Province and around 170 kilometres south of Hua Hin was one of the hardest hit Districts. Hua Hin avoided substantial damage with only local flooding with some temporary road closures reported. The severe flooding came after “the worst rainfall in more than 30 years”, according to Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha. Residents of Bang Saphan have told reporters that they have never experienced these conditions over their 60 year lifetime.
The flooding ravaged Phatthalung, Narathiwat, Yala, Songkhla, Pattani, Trang, Surat Thani, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Chumphon, Ranong, Krabi and Prachuap Khiri Khan from January 1st. According to the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department, floods have affected more than 1.2 million people. Prachuab Khiri Khan was hit by the unseasonal heavy rain, causing flash flood to submerge the southern rail line and the major Phetkasem highway at the Bang Saphan district. Vehicles could not pass the submerged section of the highway due to deep water and strong currents. Flood water spilled from three reservoirs in the Bang Saphan district, flowing down to submerge a section of Phetkasem highway.
The strong current washed away the bridge approach slab of the Ban Wang Yao Bridge, paralyzing traffic on this major highway from Bangkok to the South. A police officer identified as Pol Lt Dusit Sonthanakorn, 47, was washed away by flash flood as he was directing traffic on the flooded Phetkasem highway.
The Thai Government estimates that 43,000 businesses have been affected, while 19 highways were impassable. Sections of the north-south rail line buckled under the pressure of floodwater. With the rainfall easing and the water receding, a major clean-up was then undertaken and transport arteries gradually restored.
A Swamped Bang Saphan Hospital
The Bang Saphan hospital had to close and relocate patients after being by swamped by water a metre deep, destroying an x-ray machine and dental equipment. “It is the worst flood in [the] hospital’s history, a 60-year-old patient told us she’s never seen it this bad,” said Cherdchai Chayawatto, doctor at Bang Saphan Hospital. His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun has provided relief bags for residents in flood-ravaged southern provinces.
The Thai Red Cross Society has been seeking donations to help with its relief efforts in the South. Speaking after an inspection of the affected areas, 4th Army chief Lt Gen Piyawat Nakwanich said he had ordered all 22 branches of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Centre to quickly provide help to victims. The United States donated 3.5 million THB to help flood victims in the South. “On behalf of the American people, I offer my sincere condolences and sympathy to the people of Thailand for the loss of life and damage caused by the flooding in southern Thailand,” US Ambassador Glyn Davies said.
While some foreign tourists have been inconvenienced, the real damage is to infrastructure and businesses. Travellers to our region who were affected by this ‘once in a lifetime’ rainfall and flooding event chose to visit the driest region in Thailand during the driest month in Thailand; just not this year! Just for the record some historical rainfall statistics: Thailand most rainfall per year – Phuket – 2237.5mm, Thailand least rainfall per year – Hua Hin – 988.9mm