BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s devastating flood crisis deepened Tuesday after floodwaters began pouring over sandbagged barriers protecting Bangkok’s second airport, forcing a halt to commercial flights after airlines based there suspended operations.It was not immediately clear how much water had entered Don Muang airport, which is used primarily for domestic flights, or whether it was controllable. But the news was sure to further erode the credibility of a government that has repeatedly sent mixed signals about its ability to defend an increasingly anxious capital from Thailand’s worst floods in nearly 60 years.
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.
Budget airline Nok Air suspended operations at Don Muang until Nov. 1 “because water has entered the north side of the airport already,” the company’s CEO Patee Sarasin told The Associated Press. He said all airborne aircraft would be diverted to Suvarnabhumi.
The only other main carrier using Don Muang, Orient Thai Airlines, also said it was suspending flights and would transfer domestic operations to Suvarnabhumi.
An airport official confirmed water had crept inside the airport compound, but he said runways were unaffected.
An Associated Press reporter at the airport walked through ankle-high water that had pooled over a tarmac zone several hundred yards (meters) squared. Some of the water was spilling over a thigh-high sandbag barrier on the airport’s northern side; two aircraft were visible outside a hangar about 500 yards (500 meters) away.
Don Muang has come to symbolise the gravity of Thailand’s catastrophic floods, which have swamped a third of the country’s provinces and killed 366 people over three months. It houses the government’s emergency Flood Relief Operations centre, and one of its terminals is home to thousands of people who have been forced to flee their homes.
Last week, the Thai air force moved about 20 planes from Don Muang, which also home to a military base, as a precaution as waters approached the capital.
Floodwaters have been pouring into the Don Muang district, located on Bangkok’s northernmost outskirts, for several days. The waist-high water has entered homes and blocked streets running to the airport.
Don Muang is among seven of the capital’s 50 districts that the government has declared at risk. Those zones, located in the north and northwest, are all experiencing minor flooding.
The latest to be added to the list was the northwestern district of Bang Phlat. Late Monday, Gov. Suhumbhand Paribatra warned residents there to move their belongings to higher ground after water from the Chao Phraya River crept in through a subway construction site.
Also Tuesday, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration declared Oct. 27-31 public holidays in affected areas, including Bangkok, government spokesman Thitima Chaisaeng said.
Last week, Yingluck ordered key floodgates opened to help drain runoff through urban canals to the sea, but there is great concern that rising tides in the Gulf of Thailand this weekend could slow critical outflows and flood the city.
Late Monday, the flood relief centre said water levels in the worst-hit parts of the country — the submerged provinces north of Bangkok — were stable or subsiding. But the massive runoff was still bearing down on the city as it flowed south toward the Gulf of Thailand.
While neighborhoods just across Bangkok’s boundaries are underwater, most of Bangkok is dry and has not been directly affected by deluge.
Anxious Bangkokians, though, have been raiding stores to stock up on emergency supplies, and many have been protecting homes and businesses with sandbags. Some have even erected sealed cement barriers across shop-fronts.
Associated Press writer Vee Intarakratug contributed to this report.
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