Monday, October 31, 2011

Surrounded by a swollen river

Landry has been volunteering with our district authorities, who monitor the low-lying points of the island as high tide approaches and then rush to fix any breaches -- literally battling back the swollen Chao Phraya river.

Another truckload of sandbags.

At the Bang Ko Bua temple on the northern tip of our island.

Pumping water from a low-lying point on the left of the above image over the dike protecting the island, into the river on the right.

Lots of fishermen are out and about these days. This guy has a battery pack in the recycled Pennzoil can on his back, and uses his two zapping prongs to knock fish out.

As for our home, we are still dry. We have had occasional problems with our water supply, which was contaminated and rationed for a spell, but it all appears to be back to normal. We have a water filter, but are boiling as well to be on the safe side.

Friday, October 14, 2011

To flood or not to flood

Our island, formed by a large loop in the Chao Phraya, was long ago quite prone to flooding. As the neighbors tell it, the inundations used to come chest high one or two days per year. Perhaps a decade or so ago, they say, a dyke was built around the island, to protect against the rising waters.

That said, this year Thailand is seeing the worst flooding in half a century, and today, the Chao Phraya river reached a record high. Some parts of the country are under 2 meters of water, and while every effort has been made to save Bangkok, areas to the north have been under water for more than a month.

There is supposed to be a high tide tomorrow or sometime over the weekend, and with waters being released from northern Thailand to ease the worst flooding, our village is expected to be plunged under water. Local authorities are not sure whether or not we'll be flooded -- perhaps knee deep, they say, but you never know.

Our neighbors, who have lived here for generations, don't seem too worried, so we're hoping that we will stay dry. Still, we've moved all our art and electronics up to higher ground, and prepared dry foods and drinking water.

I've been writing about children preparing for floods and landslides for a photo-video-text package I put together for British NGO Plan International in time for Oct. 13, Disaster Risk Reduction Day. Needless to say, I've been wishing that Plan disaster management people would come to my neighborhood to give us a few lessons. The girl above was helping only by providing good cheer.

The waters in our neighborhood canals are quite high now, and each day, we are doused in hours-long torrential rains. The thunder last night made our entire house rumble, and I nervously got out of bed much of the night to glance at the water level in our backyard canal (or klong, in Thai).

To ease our minds a bit, over the past few days, Landry and I have visited the disaster management team at our sub-district administrative office, where they are preparing sandbags.

Yes! Children were helping, too -- which, I write in my story for Plan, gives children a sense of control over a situation in which they might otherwise feel helpless. Two boys, 10 years old, and one 12, helping to tie the sandbags shut.

Landry, leaning inside the truck, volunteered with the disaster management team, which passed out sandbags to villagers most at risk, living near the river banks.

We are not among the most at-risk areas when compared with our neighbors, but when compared with Bangkok, which surrounds our island, it looks like we're going to be hit hard. On that map, our island is underneath 355 million cubic meters of "water/daily" [sic]. Actually, it was a peninsula, but one of the royal irrigation projects was the Lad Pho canal, dug across the narrow southern end so water could be rushed out to the Gulf of Thailand.

The team then headed down the road to some houses that were flooded because of heavy rains last night.

We went down a lovely wooden path...

to this house, whose ground floor was under water.

The team was pumping water out from a villager's yard...

up and over the dyke that protects the island.

Baby's got a brief respite from the rain, but still needs an umbrella as a parasol.