After living in Koh Chang, Thailand for several years I was invited into the local Tourist Police as a way to help out travellers to the island, little did I know that I would wind up in Ayutthaya when the floods came in this year.
I used to be a member of Calgary Search and Rescue so when they asked if I would come along i jumped a the chance to help out... I knew one way or another it would be a story.
From our small island we travelled to Trat, a provincial capital and met up with relief trucks piled high with food, water and other essentials and were able to get onto the roads and towards Ayutthaya before nightfall and continued into the night to get there as quickly as possible.
We had to make several detours and check with several different government departments as to what roads were passable and what were not. we still wound up just barely getting through and travelling late into the night after several roads were flooded but we did make it into the local Tesco-Lotus supermarket grounds that were just barely above water and had been converted into a relief center.
Starting early the enxt morning the city was clearly underwater, what had been the freeway in across a bridge was now a docking area. Cars, trucks and motorcycles that were not able to make it out as the water rose were everywhere and were a clear hazard. the water itself was about chest deep and felt greasy when we had to wade through it, it was really a disaster zone.
Anything that could float was being used and with people being for the most part trapped in their homes it was essential to get supplies into them. The generosity of the Thai people really did astound me. Navy rubber rafts, small personal crafts, jet skis and our large pontoon boats were all laden with supplies/ Although chaotic it was working... supplies were getting to the needy.
There are people trapped almost everywhere and they are in need of food and water. The old can barely cope, the children are in over their heads in the water and for many – there is nowhere else to go. Reports of looting were rampant and so people were staying to protect what little they had. The first level of any home is now underwater and what was once a roof to keep out the sun and rain is now a dock or living area. The cry seems to be mainly “Nam!” which means water in Thai, although surrounded by water it is a greasy, polluted water that is probably only to get worse as time goes on with sewage, garbage and waste going in every day and night.
Our assigned area was the abandoned, but still a bit above water, Tourist Police Station just beside the National Museum. We were able to setup a generator and transfer the food from our pontoon boats and into the offices for distribution without any real problems but the heat and wading through chest deep water took its toll and was horribly tiring.
People in the neighbourhood became aware that we were there with supplies and they came in as best they could. Some waded through the water, others used small plastic boats and had whatever they find that floated with makeshift rafts.
Mostly they needed water and the word most often used was "Nam" which is water in Thai. Along with that we were able to give out a lot of food, but it was ironic that with so much water, none of it could be drank safely.
An interesting note was that the huge pontoon boats we were using were owned by a Bangkok company that had just finished filming "The Hangover 2" and were now employed saving a lot of people...
The second part of the operation was getting into a local neighbourhood and distributing the supplies as best we could. Again, people were trapped in their homes, boats and people wading came to get what they could and quickly departed back home. Some faces were smiling and some were obviously stressed, others were stoic and did their best to seem happy and appreciate they are alive while many others are dead.
We were able to drop in a few tons of supplies and lots of water, but we felt that we had just scratched the surface, there was a lot more work to be done…
We transferred load after load from truck to boat and then back to the station as best we could. Some areas allowed the use of the motor and others had us all walk and push the boat, as due to the weight it was sitting low, but we made it each time. Tired, hot, sweaty, the water sometimes filled with debris we still got through. Everyone pitched in and all was well.
It was a long day and another team will be filling in for us from the local Tourist Police in Koh Chang and other areas, there is a lot to be done, and a lot of people are showing up to help. Only time will tell if the people in this disaster zone will be alright or if the water will win… But the Thai people are resilient and strong. I think they will win over the water, I think they have been winning for millennia in this part of the world. Although they were in the worst possible scenario, so many were smiling and still of good cheer. Amazing to see such character in a people.
As the sun set we were headed back to the docking area and although the streets were flooded the sun going down over them was a beautiful thing, strange but true. Thailand is like that, a land of extremes and a land of such beauty, even in disaster…