Wednesday, September 28th, I traveled to Lampang with Ajarn Narate, the Director of Christian Education and Music for the Ministry of Education of the CCT, to visit two of our schools in that city. While it was pouring rain in Chiangmai, it cleared up as we drove and the drive to Lampang was beautiful with lush rolling hills and mountains shrouded in low clouds. I met with English teachers from Kenneth MacKenzie School and my cell phone (normally very quiet) started going off toward the end of our morning meeting. When we broke for lunch, I responded to a call from Mom who told me that she was told the Ping River in Chiangmai had overflowed its banks. I called the office of our landlord who assured me that they had ordered sandbags and would deliver them as soon as they received them. They also said that they would check on my 91-year-old mother and make sure she was OK.
I was good with that, so went on to lunch and my second meeting. My cell phone kept going off (silent vibrate) again and, when our meeting was over, I returned calls from concerned friends: Did I know that the water from the river was over the banks of the river? Was my mother OK? Where was I? Where was the car? I assured them that I was on my way home. I called my mother and she said the water was in our lane. Again, I called the landlord’s office and was reassured that sandbags would be delivered as soon as they were available.
I thanked the folks from Vijjinari School for their time and we headed back to Chiangmai at 3:30 PM. On the way, I called home again. Mom was there, but no sandbags had been delivered to the house and the water was coming into the yard. As we came into the city, we saw rain in the north, but saw no other problems on the road we took until we got to where we turn off the Super Highway into my neighborhood. Then, there was this hand-lettered sign at the intersection. Sure enough, about one kilometer down the road, water covered an intersection within walking distance of the house.
We proceeded forward slowly as we could see that pickup trucks could make it across the intersection and we were in the van. When we turned into our lane, I could not see pavement, curbs, or even where the little canal is. Proceeding very slowly, we drove into the soi and I used visual landmarks to help us find the turn and avoid the little canal. Other pickup trucks were still in the roadway further down, but the water was up to the undercarriage of the truck – about halfway up the wheels. Ajarn Narate dropped me off at my gate and I hiked my skirt up to my hips, carried my shoes and purse, and walked barefoot through the dirty brown water. I could feel the current of the river around my ankles and debris from the river wrapped around my legs.
Mom was there to greet me and we assessed the situation. There is a local website that monitors the water level in the river (www.hydro-1.com) at two points: six hours upstream and here in Chiangmai. The river begins to flood here at 3.7 meters and the website revealed we were at 4.8 meters. Worse, the river was still rising at the monitoring point six hours upstream. I did not have a car (I had parked it at the office), but the car could not have made it into the lane at that point. So, I made some calls and learned that a) the landlord’s office was closed, b) no one could reach me in their cars, and c) city workers were so busy with this unanticipated crisis that no one there could bring me any sandbags or a pump.
The wonderful way in which Thai homes (for the middle class and up) are built provides easy protection from moderate flooding. There is a concrete wall all the way around the yard and the only opening is at the gate. If sandbags are placed at the gate and a pump is available to pump out any water that leaks through the sandbags or comes up from the ground, the house is secure until the flood waters rise so high that they come over the wall. Neighbors on three sides had sandbagged their gates and their pumps were keeping any stray water away from their homes. Unfortunately, I arrived too late to get sandbags and a pump, so we just watched as the little flowers we just planted in our flowerbed this month slowly went under the flood waters.
As the sun went down, I worked to move things up to the second floor of the house – some books, papers, small tables, chairs, electronic equipment, etc. As I was working, I thought of Esther Wakeman, who has lived in Chiangmai for decades. I called her and asked whether she knew of anyone who could bring sandbags and a pump to us. No, but she had some Free Burma Rangers at the house and, if they could make it to our house, they could help move things up to the second floor. In thirty minutes, they were here and miracles happened.
A lightweight rattan couch went up onto the heavy dining room table. Mom’s heavy teak desk went up onto some dining room chairs. Stacks of books, tables, chairs, bookcases, and even Mom’s heavy viewing monitor made it upstairs onto my desk. These guys and gals were amazing! The Free Burma Rangers are a multi-ethnic humanitarian service movement that brings help, hope and love to people in the war zones of Burma. In Thailand, they work with Burmese refugees on the Thai-Burma border (www.freeburmarangers.org).
Our FBR friends worked quickly so that they would not get stuck in the rising flood waters. After they drove away, Mom and I continued to monitor the rising flood waters and watched the news until bedtime. I stayed up until midnight when, for the first time, the water levels upstream stopped rising. The water at our house was lapping at the top step. There was nothing else that I could do, though, so I went to bed and got some sleep.
In the morning, we were still surrounded by flood waters, but they were receding – at the rate of one centimeter an hour. By afternoon, we could the second step and then, the waters upstream began rising again. So, we left everything in place and just monitored the water levels all day as they dropped here for several hours and then began to rise again. At 10:00 PM, they stopped rising upstream and, at midnight, they stopped rising here. Once again, we were spared. No water came into the house overnight.
So, what was it like living through this moderate flood? It was enough to let me know that I would never, ever want to be in one more severe than this. As we learned more and more about floods, Mom and I thought of the people of New Orleans and what they must have suffered through during and after Hurricane Katrina. Some things you don’t think about: a) When your septic tank is under three feet of water, your toilets no longer work. b) When your water pump (right) is under water, you have no running water in your home. c) There is more than just brown silt in this water and some of it can be very dangerous (from snakes to fungus to garbage to sewage). Fortunately, I had filled a bathtub with water and we had several gallons of drinking water in the house. Because the water never came into the house, we never lost electric power, so food in the refrigerator was still good to eat. And we still had air conditioning. I really do not know how folks in New Orleans dealt with their troubles, which were so much greater than mine. And I know that many Thai families are suffering now and do not have the resources to deal with it.
The water is dropping rapidly today (Friday) and now we are dealing with the mud. The receding water is leaving at least one-half inch of mud behind everywhere. The photo shows a step I have cleaned (bottom), a step with a half-inch of mud (center) and the flood waters (top). The mud can be removed with a squeegee and clean water now, but if it dries, it turns to something resembling concrete. So, I have been washing every step as it appears from out of the muddy water, using water from the tap (Thank heaven our water pump works!).
Then, just when I got really tired and discouraged, God send angels to help. Dean and his son’s friend showed up around noon and the two of them pushed sediment out of the carport and into the street for the receding water to take it away from the house. Dean also rode to a local store on his bike and brought back a squeegee and hose to help with the clean-up. He warned us that it would be a few more days before the toilets would work and that we would be blessed with the smell of decaying animals who died in the flood. Now, we are waiting to see whether the hurricane that hit the Philippines will make its way over Thailand. If so, the rain associated with that now tropical storm will bring a fresh round of flooding to Northern Thailand. Jai yen. ใจเย็น. Jai yen.
More photos of the Chiangmai flood can be seen at http://www.cm108.com. Click on the top link on the left. Also, here are some more photo from our part of the city: