High tides expected to peak on Saturday will be one of the biggest tests yet of Bangkok's anti-flood defenses. For days, the city's main Chao Phraya river has spilled its banks, forcing water into riverside streets from Chinatown to the white-walled royal Grand Palace and the neighboring Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
Most of the water has receded at low tide. But some worried residents, fearing the worst is yet to come, are buying up bright orange lifejackets and inflatable boats.
"You have to prepare," said Fon Kanokporn, a banker who bought a rubber boat from a store that had several hanging as advertisements from trees out front.
Employees at the shop said they had sold well over 3,000 boats in the last week. The brisk business is a measure of the fear gripping Bangkok and a reflection of the tragedy of neighboring provinces that have been submerged for weeks. Several buyers said they needed boats because their submerged homes outside the capital were no longer accessible by road.
Three months of relentless monsoon rains have caused the worst flooding in Thailand in nearly 60 years, triggering a national crisis that has overwhelmed the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The water has crept from the central plains south toward the Gulf of Thailand, engulfing a third of the country and killing nearly 400 people and displacing 110,000 more. Now, Bangkok is in the way — surrounded by behemoth pools of water flowing around and through the city via a complex network of canals and rivers.
The government is worried major barriers and dikes could break since they were never designed to hold back so much water for so long. And this weekend, higher than normal tides are obstructing the critical flow of runoff from the north, fueling fears that parts of downtown could be swamped.
With floodwaters pushing the Chao Phraya to its limits, monks at the 200-year-old Temple of the Dawn were stacking new lines of sandbags on a secondary barrier in case the river overflowed.
Army trucks dumped thousands more outside the riverside Siriraj Hospital, where Thailand's ailing and revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej has stayed since 2009.
So far, most of the city has remained untouched, and tourists are still snapping pictures in riverside districts as always.
But little by little, the city is slowing down.
This week, floodwaters pushed into Don Muang airport, used mostly for domestic flights, shutting it down. And on Friday, the State Railway of Thailand said all train services from Bangkok to southern Thailand were suspended after the tracks in Bangkok's suburbs were submerged by floodwaters.
Thais and expatriates alike continued to leave Bangkok as foreign governments urged their citizens to avoid the threatened city, citing transportation difficulties and shortages of certain food items.
Seven of Bangkok's 50 districts — all in the northern outskirts — are heavily flooded, and residents have fled aboard bamboo rafts and army trucks and by wading through waist-deep water. Eight other districts have seen less serious flooding.
New flooding was reported Friday in the city's southeast when a canal overflowed in a neighborhood on the outer parts of Sukhumvit Road. And high tides briefly touched riverside areas closer to the city's central business districts of Silom and Sathorn.
But the day passed without major incident.
"It is clear that although the high tides haven't reached 2.5 meters, it was high enough to prolong the suffering of those living outside of the flood walls and to threaten those living behind deteriorating walls," Bangkok Gov. Sukhumbhand Paribatra said.
The flood walls protecting much of the inner city are 8.2 feet high, and Saturday's high tide is expected to reach 8.5 feet.
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