Church Aids Country as Monsoon Flooding Disrupts Millions in Thailand

Contributed By Philip M. Volmar, Church News and Events

  • 3 November 2011

Flooding in Thailand is the result of heavier-than-usual monsoon rains, which are overwhelming floodplains and drainage systems. The floodwaters are flowing from the central regions of the country down through Bangkok to the sea.

“The uncontrollable flooding crisis causes many in Bangkok to store food and water. Most members are okay, since we are all taught how to prepare for emergencies.” — Janjira Sirisarn, a Church member living in Bangkok

Editor's note: As additional details become available, they will be updated here.

UPDATE: Friday, Nov. 4, 2011

Thailand floodwaters, which continue to rise in some areas, are still pouring into Bangkok, threatening the city’s subway system and daily sending thousands on an evacuation to safer parts of the country.

So far, more than 400 deaths have been reported nationwide. All members and missionaries are safe and accounted for. More than 500 members have been affected by the flooding, approximately half of which have moved to other locations.

Although one-fifth of Bangkok is under water, no deaths have been reported in the capital, and low-lying areas there have a decreased risk of further flooding due to low tides at the gulf.

Church-owned buildings, many of which were sandbagged in advance, have avoided flooding, though the areas where some meetinghouses are located in have been impacted.

The Thai Royal Army continues to aid in flood management and provide relief efforts, including assistance from the Church. The army is distributing Church-assembled food and sanitation kits as well as portable toilets, provided by Church Welfare, that help prevent disease.

This weekend, some 10,000 blankets that members are packaging will be distributed in central Thailand.

Missionaries and other members are supporting in cleanup efforts where safe. In some areas, water-borne diseases, electrocution, and drowning are concerns. Food supply is also a concern.

Nopporn Janyasawangporn, a member whose home is in the Saimai District north of Bangkok, said last week that he and his family prepared food storage in advance to avoid running out.

“The stores don't have any food and water left to purchase,” he said. Brother Janasawangporn and his family have since left Bangkok.

UPDATE: Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011

The worst monsoon flooding to hit Thailand in half a century has disrupted the lives of more than 9 million people in the country, killing nearly 350 and leaving many on an exodus to higher ground.

More than 100 Church member families have evacuated Bangkok and surrounding regions to escape to higher elevations in the southern part of the country.

According to Michael Smith, president of the Bangkok Thailand Mission, all missionaries are safe and accounted for. Those who were living in low-lying areas have been moved to higher ground.

“Many members have moved upstairs in their homes, away from the cities, or to country homes,” said Elder Larry Ogden, a public affairs missionary serving in Thailand with his wife, Sister Judith Ogden.

The Church, which has five districts and one stake in Thailand, has 14 meetinghouses in Bangkok. So far, flooding has impacted four of those properties. All Church meetings in the city were canceled October 23.

“Time will tell if these buildings will be spared,” Elder Ogden said.

The flooding in Thailand started months ago with seasonal typhoons in mountainous areas. These waters coalesced and flowed through natural river courses until they flooded agricultural lands. While some flooding is common in Thailand, this year’s rainfall has been heavier than usual, amounting to some 70 inches (178 centimeters) of rain in one season.

This year the floods started in the north in areas such as Chiang Mai two months ago. The waters are flowing down to the gulf of Thailand, the bank of which is where Bangkok lies.

The city has a network of more than 200 sluice gates and canals designed to divert such floodwaters, but the typhoons that hit the Asian country have overwhelmed the system.

“This is not a small hit,” Elder Ogden said. “This is a major hit.”

Elder Ogden said that the Church is working with official government channels to aid in relief efforts. Some 1,200 emergency relief kits have been distributed to areas north of Bangkok, where the flooding first occurred. Church welfare has also donated 2,000 portable toilets, which help reduce the instance of disease in heavily affected areas. Some 500 of these toilets and other supplies were dispersed in Lopburi.

Elder Ogden said that about 200 emergency kits have been reserved for Bangkok and are being given to members as need arises.

Janjira Sirisarn, a member who lives in downtown Bangkok, said that the flood does not yet affect her area.

“The uncontrollable flooding crisis causes many in this big city to store food and water,” she said, adding that so far the only stress in her neighborhood is the shortage of food and water. “Most members are okay, since we are all taught how to prepare for emergencies.”

Sister Sirisarn’s report highlights the importance of emergency preparedness that Church leaders have encouraged.

According to officials, it will take nearly two months for the flood waters to fully recede from Bangkok, and the situation will likely get worse before it gets better.