A Bangkok resident waits for a bus to leave the Thai capital on Thursday. Thousands of residents were fleeing the city after a five-day holiday was declared ahead of potentially severe flooding at the weekend. [Photo by Christophe Archambault / Agence France-Presse]
BANGKOK - Thousands of Bangkok residents flocked to bus, rail and air terminals on Thursday while heavy traffic snaked out of the sprawling Thai capital in an exodus from a mass of approaching floodwater.
Water was seeping into central areas of the city of 12 million people, entering the grounds of the Grand Palace after the main Chao Phraya River overflowed at high tide, but most of downtown Bangkok was still dry.
A huge runoff from the north equivalent to almost half a million Olympic swimming pools is expected to reach the capital at the same time as seasonal high tides this weekend, testing the city`s flood defenses.
Many residents hunkered down in their homes, surrounded by sandbags or in some cases hastily erected concrete block walls, after the government ordered a five-day holiday for 21 provinces including Bangkok beginning Thursday.
"It`s a crisis, because if we try to resist this massive amount of floodwater, a force of nature, we won`t win," said a teary-eyed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, facing a major test of her two-month-old leadership.
"But if we allow it to flow freely then people in many areas are prepared," added the former businesswoman, the sister of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Crowds of people abandoned their homes and headed to areas away from the path of the water, especially to the beach resorts of Hua Hin, Phuket and Pattaya.
"All of these destinations are packed with Thais who have moved from Bangkok," said Tourism Authority of Thailand Deputy Chief Sansern Ngaorungsi.
He said domestic flights from Bangkok`s Suvarnabhumi Airport - the country`s main air hub, which is still operating as normal - were also "very, very packed".
A steady flow of Thais and foreigners streamed into the capital`s bus terminals as people sought to escape, while Bangkok`s main train station was crowded and roads north and east out of the city were choked.
"I saw on the news that the water is getting closer. Maybe it`s not going to come but I don`t want to take a chance," 72-year-old Canadian Claude Kerrignan said as he waited to board a bus to Pattaya.
People wade through a flooded main street in Bangkok October 27, 2011. Thailand`s prime minister said Bangkok was fighting the forces of nature on Thursday as floodwater threatened to break through dikes protecting the capital and residents took to the road after the government told them to leave if they could. [Photo/Agencies]
Buddhist monks and other passengers travel on a bus through the flooded streets of central Bangkok Oct 27, 2011. Thailand`s prime minister said Bangkok was fighting the forces of nature on Thursday as floodwater threatened to break through dikes protecting the capital and residents took to the road after the government told them to leave if they could. [Photo/Agencies]