Vol. IV No. 34 - Saturday August 20 - August 26, 2005
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NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Chiang Mai floods worst in 40 years

Blaze rages through famous hotel in central Chiang Mai

A city cleans-up

Christy Sarah Jones’ relatives plead with police to follow up on her murder

Top government officials and politicians fingered in longan scam

Huge heroin haul

Car slams into house in the middle of the night

Chiang Mai MP promises poverty to be solved before 2007

Chiang Mai floods worst in 40 years

Mayor forced to eat his words, PM blames encroachment

Nopniwat Krailerg

A depression in the South China Sea brought incessant rain into the North of Thailand on August 12, producing one of the heaviest rainfalls in history. Locals say they have not seen such extensive flooding for 40 years.

The flooding began in the Northern districts of Chiang Mai on the evening of August 13 and increased rapidly throughout the night. Floodwaters covered the entire city area by the morning of the 14th. Restaurants, shops, hotels, and homeowners in the vicinity of the Ping River were forced to evacuate and move their belongings to higher ground.

Many roads became impassable, such as under Pa Tan Bridge, Ban Tho Muang Lang and near Region 5 Police headquarters, to Pa Daed village. Many areas, both inside and surrounding Chiang Mai Municipality, were covered in water, such as Wang Singh Kham Road, the Wat Pa Phaeng area, Muang Samut Road, Fah Haam Road, Chang Khlan Road, Charoen Prathed Road, Loy Kroh Road, Ban Pa Prawnok, Chiang Mai Land Village in Chang Klan, Chiang Mai-Lamphun Road, Bamrung Rat Road, Rat-Uthit Road, Thung Hotel Road, Nong Pa Khrang especially in areas where the ground level is lower than the Ping River in Wiang Thong Village where 170 family homes were in over two meters of water. Villagers were forced to move their belongings to higher ground and parked their cars on Mahidol Road, stretching out for two kilometers.

Boats were used to bring out the aged and children, especially in the Chang Klan area which is Chiang Mai’s main business center where the Night Bazaar and many of the major hotels are located. Water levels were waist high and hotels in the area had to request assistance from the military to take tourists to safe areas. Some schools in the area as well as on Chang Klan Charoen Prathaed and Kaew Nawarat Road have been closed and did not reopen until everything was back to normal.

PM Thaksin Shinawatra flew in to Chiang Mai at 11 a.m. on August 14 and was shown the damage. The next day he flew over the area in a helicopter and later said, “The floods in Chiang Mai were caused by the Ping River overflowing in many areas as well as illegal deforestation.” He has instructed the ministers responsible to carry out checks.

Governor Suwat Tantipat and Chumporn Saengmanee, Muang district chief officer checked on the situation in various locations and instructed agencies to provide total assistance to those in need. In Chiang Mai Municipality, Mayor Boonlert Buranupakorn set up an emergency center. Sandbags were distributed and officials are accepting rice and processed food donations to be given out to the needy. The police and emergency services received many calls for help. The military provided personnel and equipment.

Other provinces also provided assistance, including Kamphaeng Phet and Phitsanulok who supplied boats and personnel.

The highest water level of the Ping River was measured at 4.90 meters at 10 p.m. on August 14. The Hydrology Department announced that it had dropped to 4.60 meters at 12.30 a.m. on the 15th. The Hydrology Department predicted the level would drop at the rate of 4 centimeters an hour and return to normal on August 16.

That there has been loss of life, loss of property and loss of livelihood and physical damage is lamentable, but perhaps now is the time for Chiang Mai to stop being complacent. It is only a few weeks ago that we ran an item entitled, “Chiang Mai municipality tries to prevent flooding”, and at the end of the article we quoted Mayor Boonlert who said that he was confident that Chiang Mai residents would not face floods this year. The events last weekend have shown categorically that the attempts to prevent flooding were sadly lacking, and the mayor was wrong. The PM’s description of the problem may be quite correct, but the answer to the problem was not spelled out.

If Chiang Mai wants to consider itself the hub of everything in the North, it must urgently tackle the flood mitigation problems. Money that has been spent on tourist attractions might have been better spent on ensuring that Chiang Mai is safe, not just for tourists and residents all year round, but also a safe investment for entrepreneurs. Currently it is neither.

A man hangs onto a tree outside his flooded house in Mae Tang district of Chiang Mai province. (Photo by Wichai Tapriew)

Monday morning at the Municipality Stadium, a group of foreign friends provided 175 lunches with the money raised during an ad-hoc fundraising activity. (Photo by Nopniwat Krailerg)

Helpers distribute drinking water Monday morning. (Photo by Nopniwat Krailerg)

Only a few hundred meters from Baan Suan Restaurant (Photo by Lars Magnussen)

On Sunday afternoon - Khamthien market is out of sandbags, but crates might also help? (Photo by M. Vogt)

Better off on a bike... ( Photo by Nopniwat Krailerg)

Sunday afternoon 4 p.m. - Evacuation in full swing. This is the area around Panthip Plaza (Photo by M. Vogt)

Frank Weicks, Becky Lomax and granddaughter Lesley try to reach home after a Sunday afternoon out, which turned into an adventure ... Flower Condominium was under water.

Tourists are evacuated by trucks, by military, by high vehicles from all areas and hotels around Night Bazaar, Ping River and from guesthouses near the railroad station. Most of them see it as an adventure, but as always, some do not...

Night Bazaar in the evening, a flooded ghost town. (Photo by Gavin Burgess, thaichange.com)

Chiang Mai’s favorite restaurants are spading mud off the floors and make sure that equipment survived by Monday afternoon ... Seen here the folks from Sojo’s, securing with sandbags. (Photo by M. Vogt)

Chiang Mai Post Office (Photo by Wanna Thomas)

Sunday afternoon, chaos in the streets and everybody hopes that the water will stop rising ... (Photo by Nopniwat Krailerg)

Chiangmai Mail office is flooded as well. (Photo by Nopniwat Krailerg)

Let’s go for a burger... by boat. (Photo by Nopniwat Krailerg)

Rescue teams at Night Bazaar. (Photo by Gavin Burgess, thaichange.com)

Temple Gate on Thapae Road. (Photo by Gavin Burgess, thaichange.com)

Workers, assigned to build a sandbag wall, arrive at an ancient city in Chiang Mai. Flash floods in five provinces of northern Thailand killed at least 10 people and left several areas cut off, officials said. (AP Photo Wichai Tapriew)

Sunday 4 p.m. - Why won’t it start? (Photo by Nopniwat Krailerg)

Almost like a Tidal wave ... the girl next to the driver does not look very convinced that they will make it. (Photo by M. Vogt)

Villages in Chiang Dao district Chiang Mai were completely inundated.

Night Bazaar (Photo by Nopniwat Krailerg)

Rescue teams deliver sand bags in the downtown area. (Photo by M. Vogt)

Governor Suwat Tantipat and Maj. Gen Phairat Tongjaktu, commander of the Pha Muang Task Forces inspect the devastation.

The recovery from this will take weeks.


Blaze rages through famous hotel in central Chiang Mai

Nopniwat Krailerg

A fire at the famous Royal Princess Hotel in Chiang Mai broke out at 8.30 p.m. on August 13, despite the rain. Tourists were forced to evacuate, as three fire engines attended to the blaze.

Pol. Capt. Sukij Hamara, duty sub-inspector of Muang Chiang Mai Police Station, received reports of the fire at the Royal Princess Hotel on Chang Klan Road and rushed to the scene with two colleagues. They found tourists running for their lives as three fire engines doused water on the 10 storey, 198 room luxury hotel. The fire raged for about an hour before being brought under control.

The fire broke out in the control room located on the 2nd floor. Smoke was everywhere and there were sounds of explosions, as is common during fires.

Governor Suwat Tantipat and Chumporn Saengmanee, Muang Chiang Mai chief district officer directed fire fighting operations.

Preliminary investigations showed that the fire broke out in the second floor control room, which is off-limits to employees. An employee saw smoke coming out of the room and on hearing explosions called the police. It is initially suspected that the fire was caused by an electrical short. Police forensics will be called in to elucidate the cause. At this moment it is not possible to assess the damage.


A city cleans-up

Hopefully, it will also clean-up its act soon

Michael Vogt

In the aftermath of the deluge, Monday night and Tuesday saw a tremendous clean-up activity. Volunteers, rescue teams, fire brigades and by far and foremost, tenants and shop owners were seen sweeping, hosing and mopping their premises, to hopefully return to their normal lives as well as to kick-start re-opening their businesses.

Huge pumps, hoses and pipes were needed to get rid of the waters that flooded underground parking lots, shops and stores, but what was remarkable was that everyone seemed to be in relatively good spirits, and smiling away as usual. The saying “apr่s moi la deluge” proves yet again to be correct, especially in Thailand, and hits the nail on the head.

Business proprietors are now busy returning to their daily routine, some hit harder than others. Eckhard “Gypsy” Schuette from the ‘Grillstation’ located on the badly hit Charoenprathet Road said, “We have not slept since Sunday, but are now ready to welcome customers again. Life goes on.”

Somebody, however, will most certainly be invited to answer certain questions, such as why the public did not receive a proper and timely warning. Certainly, flash floods do occur suddenly, but not out of the blue. The Ping River had been continuously rising over the last few days, and the Meteorological Department issued warnings of flash floods to local media such as daily newspapers and radio stations, requesting them to relay the information to the public. Why weren’t trucks, usually used to noise-pollute Chiang Mai with announcements nobody is interested in, used to verbally inform the residents on the street? Businesses which are normally not affected by the yearly floods could at least have had a chance to protect themselves, rather than being completely caught by surprise, helpless and paralyzed.

The local fire brigade became street cleaners on Chang Klan Road.

Huge pumps try to empty Panthip Plaza’s underground parking lot and its first floor.

This abandoned building was a great place to dry clothes.

Waiting for a second wave, or did somebody forget to pick her up from the restaurant’s roof?

Cleaning activities are desperately needed.

At the just opened Chedi Hotel, staff was pumping the river out of the pool.

Chi Chang’s head office, located in Chiangmai Land, was flooded up to the first floor.

Drying up Chiang Inn Plaza on Tuesday afternoon.

Unfortunately, The Riverside is accustomed to these scenarios.

Happy cleaners, no matter what happens.


Christy Sarah Jones’ relatives plead with police to follow up on her murder

Nopniwat Krailerg

On August 11 Sue and Garrett Jones, the mother and elder brother of 23-year-old Christy Sarah Jones, the British tourist who was raped and murdered in her room in a guesthouse in Chiang Mai on August 10, 2000, arrived to attempt to rekindle interest in the case.

Sue and Garrett Jones call on Pol. Lt. Gen Panupong Singhara Na Ayuthaya, commissioner of the Provincial Police Bureau at Region 5 headquarters Chiang Mai.

Five years ago, police questioned suspects including foreigners, the guest house owner, a tour guide and a police officer, but still no arrests have been made.

At 2 p.m. on the anniversary of her killing, they visited Pol. Lt. Gen. Panupong Singhara Na Ayuthaya, commissioner of the Provincial Police Bureau Region 5, along with two British police officers, a British Embassy consular official, and an official from the Thai DSI (Department of Special Investigation), and urged him to reconsider the evidence and find the murderer as soon as possible.

Pol. Lt. Gen. Panupong stated that Region 5 officers have been continuously following up on the case and evidence has been given to the Department of Special Investigation. He confirmed that Region 5 police will not stop in their efforts to bring the murderer to justice. The victim’s mother thanked the police officers involved in the case and hoped that they can turn up more evidence and make a speedy arrest.

The case has drawn great interest and calls for early closure from the British press and officials of the British Foreign Office who each year report on the failure to close the case and imply that Thailand is unsafe, which affects the tourism image of the country.


Top government officials and politicians fingered in longan scam

But will the dry longan smell just be blown away?

Saksit Meesubkwang

Pol. Gen. Seriphisoot Temeeyawes, the inspector-general, has announced the result of investigations into dried longan scams. He revealed that 546 persons involved with first known dry longan scams would be arrested and tried. The scams involved 11 heavyweight government officials and 23 officers of six companies.

Pol. Gen. Seriphisoot Temeeyawes, inspector-general, consults with Pol Lt. Gen. Panupong Singhara Na Ayuthaya, commissioner of the Provincial Police Bureau Region 5 and Pol. Maj. Gen. Kittithat Reunthip, deputy commissioner of the Provincial Police Bureau Region 5.

The investigation turned up embezzlement, poor management and outright scams. The investigation is expected to conclude before September and arrests will soon be made, unless they have already read the newspaper and have left town.

One source has revealed that some of those involved were local politicians such as TAO and PAO officers. Others are relatives of well known politicians.

It is claimed that 49,016 persons had been investigated for cheating, and the damages came to a staggering 496 million baht for 45 million kilograms of dry longan. That’s a lot of longans to be swept under the carpet!


Huge heroin haul

“Who wants to be a millionaire?”

Saksit Meesubkwang

Four men smuggling heroin were arrested by Lampang forces in possession of 48 kg of heroin from Burma. Two motorcycles, a car and a truck were also seized as evidence. The total value of goods seized was in the order of 20 million baht. All were charged with possession and sale of a category 1 drug.

Lt. Gen. Panupong Singhara Na Ayuthaya, commissioner of the Provincial Police Bureau Region 5 and Pol. Maj. Gen. Wutti Wittitanon, the deputy commissioner question four would-be millionaires.

The men were identified as Pornthep Sairomyen, 24, Mae Hong Son; Wisaroot Laovang, 27, Chiang Mai; Wuttinan Laomee, 26, Mae Hong Son; and Chacrit Wiwatpong, 20 Kamphaengphet.

Chacrit, who reacted to the gentle persuasion of the officers earlier than the other suspects, said they had been hired to smuggle heroin five times already and had received one million baht each time.

Pol. Maj. Gen. Wutti Wittitanon, deputy commissioner of the Provincial Police Bureau Region 5 said that this gang, concentrating only on heroin, had been under investigation for more than a year. They smuggled heroin in large quantities using more than a hundred members of their association.

Heroin was bought from Red Wah troops in Burma, then transported by smart looking vehicles to confuse the police. The destination was Nigeria, where the value of this one shipment was 200 million baht. Prior to this arrest, 20 members of the gang had been arrested and two shot while some Thais and alien members escaped.


Car slams into house in the middle of the night

Nopniwat Krailerg

At 1.30 a.m. on August 4, Pol. Sub. Lt. Technic Chansri of Chang Phuek police station Chiang Mai received reports that a car had slammed into a house on Irrigation Rd. He rushed to the scene with the emergency services.

Piya Sungboonpan’s car ended up on its nose up against a house after the intoxicated engineer accepted a challenge to race.

The house belonged to Bunsri Panchama 72, and attached to it was a blue Honda Civic with its tail end stuck in the air. Preliminary questioning revealed that the car was driven by Piya Sungboonpan, 24, an engineer from San Pa Tong, Chiang Mai who was in a state of intoxication. He had been drinking at the Monkey Club on Nimmanahaeminda Road. On his way home, another car drove along side at high speed to challenge to race. When they reached the curve Piya lost control and crashed into the fence belonging to Bunsri, destroying it, and bounced into the next house before ending up on its nose.

Piya was lucky to escape injury, but the police charged him with drunken and dangerous driving causing damage to third-party property.

Bunsri’s niece said, “It was raining heavily all night and everybody was sleeping peacefully, but the sound of screeching brakes and crashing into the fence shocked everyone into consciousness. A similar incident happened about 5-6 years ago and there were fears that it could happen again as teenagers in the area enjoy speeding.” And true to the prophecy, it did!


Chiang Mai MP promises poverty to be solved before 2007

Nopniwat Krailerg

Pakorn Buranupakorn, Chiang Mai area 1 MP and secretary to the minister of interior has been appointed to solve the poverty problems by receiving information from every sector. The policy of the government is, he said, that they expect the problem throughout the country to be solved before 2008.

Nevertheless, as Chiang Mai’s MP and as Chiang Mai was the PM’s hometown, he had set a goal to eliminate poverty in Chiang Mai and to make Muang the pilot district in Thailand able to solve the problem within two years, or before 2007.

Pakorn added that not only a budget to solve poverty but a budget supporting Chiang Mai tourism from the central region would be implemented. As tourism venues in Chiang Mai are developed, this could bring income to residents - and this would expand throughout the province so that all could earn lots of money. With this simplistic approach, how can they fail?



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