The 2005 Hat Yai Flood
BackgroundThere was a big flood in Hat Yai in 2000 which actually killed a lot of people but the deaths are kept quiet. People who were trapped in lifts drowned and others were electrocuted. Quite a few restaurants in Hat Yai have aerial photographs hanging on their walls showing the two meter deluge.
This obviously caused a huge problem for many people but what I didn't realise for a long time - until one of my students told me - was that it was self-inflicted. Apparently, when the new road to Songkhla was built it blocked the natural drainage path for Hat Yai's rain water.
Shortly after I arrived in Hat Yai at the end of 2003 there was a massive storm and this caused some flash flooding but the flood water didn't last long and only caused some minor problems. The rainy season in 2004 wasn't that severe, in fact it was very dry and hot all year, but more bad weather was to come at the end of 2005.
It started raining some time in October and I had never known rain quite like it. I am used to prolonged periods of light, drizzly rain or very heavy rain but which only lasts for a short time. It started to rain heavily and, at times, continued to rain heavily for 24 hours.
The wet weather system (a typhoon, I believe) had come in from the South China Sea and had already caused floods in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos before it hit Thailand. I found it hard to believe how the clouds could hold so much water. There must have been billions of gallons.
At first Hat Yai's flood defences held up pretty well. There has been work in progress for the last couple of years to improve the situation and the chief architect to improve flood defences in Thailand has been HM the King.
The King has advocated a system he refers to as gam ling which translates in English to "monkey's cheeks." Apparently, monkeys store water in their cheeks which is something I didn't realise. The new flood defence system will enable excess water from very heavy rain to be stored in order to prevent flooding.
The first heavy rains caused some minor flooding but then there was a brief respite. It was very obvious though, looking at water levels in the storm drains and klongs that continued heavy rain would result in serious problems. Well, the rain did continue.
I went to Singapore on Friday 16th December and when I left Hat Yai it was pouring again. While I was away it continued to rain in torrents and the flood defences reached their limits on the morning of Sunday 18th December.
As I sat in Changi airport on the 19th waiting for my flight back to Hat Yai I watched TV news reports from Hat Yai and heard that the town had been declared a disaster zone. Just what I needed. There were no problems with the flight but the airport road was closed when I got back and we had to take a very unusual route to get back into town.
The downtown area of Hat Yai had several inches of water and some roads had been closed off. There were plenty of sandbags in evidence and at its worst the water had reached a level of around two feet. I managed to get back to my room OK which was located on high ground so there wasn't a problem.
Nonetheless, I had not been completely unaffected. My bathroom floor was filthy. It seems that the drains from the building had become overloaded and rain water from the roof had nowhere to go. The filthy water had started to come back up the drains and had flooded my bathroom.
The clothes in my laundry basket were soaked and there was a water line on various items on the bathroom floor which indicated that the bathroom had been subjected to a three or four inch flood over the weekend. And I live on the second floor.
The following morning I headed out to the worst affected area, that of Hat Yai Nai. I wasn't sure what to expect but went in an old pair of sandals and took my camera. The first strange thing I noticed was all the vehicles parked on the bridge over the railway but it became apparent soon after why they were there.
The main road through Hat Yai Nai looked OK but every side street on one side was badly flooded. I was just going to take a few photos and then head back but then I had a stroke of luck. A large truck passed by and the driver asked if I wanted to ride on the back. I said yes, not knowing quite where he was going or why.
For the next couple of hours the truck just roamed around the flooded area. There didn't seem to be any real purpose but a few people climbed on board for a lift. For me, it was an interesting experience.
Some of the scenes were very sad. People's homes were completely flooded and their possessions ruined. A big clean up operation was going to be necessary after the water had receded and the smell was going to be really bad. What amazed me though was the attitude of the people affected.
There were no tears or miserable faces, quite the opposite in fact. As people saw a strange-looking farang with a camera they waved and smiled as if nothing whatsoever was wrong. It was a bit surreal but this is a strength of the Thai character and the mai bpen rai attitude.
The problem has already occurred. Crying and looking miserable doesn't help, so what's the point. It's a great philosophy but for most of us it an easy thing to say yet a difficult thing to do when we are faced with problems.
My little tour ended and it was saddening to see what had happened but encouraging to see how well the Thais cope with adversity.
That afternoon I had to work so set off for the university which is located on high ground. Parking is normally restricted on the campus but there were hundreds of vehicles everywhere. A public announcement had been made to let people know they could park their cars at the university to prevent them getting damaged by the flood waters.
The next thing I noticed was that the university had organised a massive flood relief effort. Lectures had been suspended for the week and hundreds of students were involved in round-the-clock activities to help those people affected.
A special water filtration system had been set up to supply fresh drinking water. As the machine filled two huge water tanks, students filled water bottles from the tanks. Empty bottles were supplied by the local community following another public announcement.
Elsewhere on campus, students were cooking huge vats of food and rice. Many homes that had been flooded had temporarily lost their cooking facilities. A control centre had been set up to organise supplies coming in and distribution of the food and water, as well as receiving donations from local people. It all seemed to be running remarkably efficiently.
The other thing that struck me was the enormous sense of fun being had by all the volunteers. When I thought about this it made complete sense. Yes, there had been a minor disaster; a few people had died as a result of the flood and many homes had been flooded.
However, what I was witnessing was a classic sanook situation in Thailand. The Thais are not a solitary race and love being together. Lectures had been suspended and instead of boring studying they were doing fun, communal activities that required no brain power. Rather than being involved in what was basically a rescue operation the atmosphere resembled a big party.
Thais are undoubtedly a kind, generous race (the majority anyway) and they help because they want to help other people. This is also an excellent way to make merit which is an important part of Buddhism. But, apart from that, they do it because they really have a good time with this sort of thing.
I didn't witness the tsunami relief effort at first-hand but I heard a lot of very good things about how the locals had helped. I can well believe it. There is probably no better place to be when things go wrong and you need help than Thailand.
In the evening I saw another massive community effort to help the flood victims. At my local meditation centre two full-size container lorries had arrived packed with food, water, clothes and blankets from all over southern Thailand. Volunteers were helping to unload the containers on to flat bed trucks for distribution. I witnessed the same sense of community spirit and fun I had seen at the university earlier.
With the flood waters high, more heavy rain had been forecast for the 23rd to 25th of December and people were bracing themselves for a worsening situation. However, the rain didn't come. The weather turned quite pleasant actually and after a few days everything returned to normal.
Hopefully, with continued improvements to the flood defences, such events will not reoccur. It is difficult to criticise the system that is already in place because considering how much water fell from the sky, most places would have flooded.
With school cancelled and the streets turned temporarily into rivers the local kids were having great fun. The smiles and happy faces disguise the dangers of flood water though.
Leptospirosis (a bacterial infection transmitted in rat's urine) is a very serious - and a very real - problem. Rat urine carries a lot of nasty substances and Hat Yai's (indeed, Thailand's and all of Southeast Asia's) rat population is huge. Within a couple of weeks of the flood I had heard reports of death and disease caused by water-borne infections.
Healthy, unbroken skin should be able to keep out the bacteria but it can enter the body through lesions and open sores.
Another nasty problem is the fungus that lurks in Thailand's rivers and klongs. If this gets into the bloodstream and gets into the brain it can - and probably will - cause death. By sheer coincidence, just after the 2005 flood I heard about the death of a young girl who had contracted a fungal infection in her brain in the big flood that hit Hat Yai five years previously.
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Listed opposite are some of my personal recommendations for hotels in Hat Yai based on budget. I have lived permanently in Hat Yai since 2003 and my recommendations are based on a lot of local knowledge.
Each link will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Every time I research hotel prices the Agoda price is always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people.
If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.
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