A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 1Kevin (เควิน) Khaosan
Sand bags – (end Oct ‘11)
There had been a continuous crawl of traffic along the Salaya to Bang Len main road for about a week. Pickups packed with families, their possessions and pets, the usual volume of 10-wheel trucks but also trucks carrying cars out of the flood zone from further up north.
I walked home past the traffic jam going the other way and as I entered my soi I could sense an atmosphere I’d never felt before. There were more people out in the street than usual and it was clear something was afoot. A neighbour came over and explained that they had had an hour’s warning from the police that the flooding was coming. Before long, a lorry delivered a huge pile of sand. There was a frenzy of activity as everyone helped fill sandbags and cart them off to their front steps. A car’s headlights were used to light up the scene as the sun had already gone down. The mosquitoes were voracious, relentlessly attacking our legs. After the pile of sand had been devoured, inspecting my now blistered hands and rubbing my sore back, I watched a police car approach slowly. I did not know the hierarchy of the soi, and perhaps neither did they, but they pointed out that some people had higher levels of sand bags than others. What is more, some houses, whose owners had the misfortune of not being present, had none.
An hour later, there was no sign of water coming up through the drains as had been feared.
A few days later, though, water appeared at the bottom of the soi nearest the klong, which is just the other side of the wall at the end of the soi. Each day, a nervous eye was kept on the size of this puddle. Some neighbours built knee-high walls in front of their homes. The water, silently, slowly, almost imperceptibly, spread up the sides of the soi, obeying the camber of the road. I had images of the future, when I would be looking at higher and higher reference points to judge how much the water had risen.
As the days progressed, the traffic jam on the main road became more desperate with more and more families and lorries crawling along. Some families decided to go no further and simply stopped and set up camp on the grass by the side of the road creating ‘Grapes of Wrath’ type images with homes made from corrugated iron, pieces of tarpaulin or advertising banners, albeit with an opposite foe.
Back in my soi, the water had crept into my front yard. To gauge the pace of its advance, I decided to retreat my potted plants away from the water, nearer my doorstep a tile at a time. Alarmingly, I found myself moving the line of plants more and more frequently until after just a few hours they were sitting on my front step, a penultimate line of resistance in front of the sandbags. As the water then continued to rise up the step, I thought I’d better take some hitherto neglected emergency measures. I started boiling water and filling buckets and moved some of my remaining stuff upstairs. I stocked up on black bin liners as possible substitutes for the toilet.
My neighbouring sois were not so lucky; they already had substantially more flooding. To get to my local grocery store two sois away, for example, I had to wade through knee deep water. The shop was slightly elevated and they had built a low wall, so for the moment they could still operate in relative dryness. Lots of the residents from canal-side homes were evacuating to higher ground, pushing boats laden with their possessions and children.
I decided to offer space in my dry house to people less fortunate. I offered a place to stay to some people sitting despondently on the side of the road. My offer was declined as they said they were waiting to get picked up. I tried down by the klong, where the exodus of people had gathered together and were already forming systems for food and sleeping. A lot of families had chosen a huge metal platform with a roof but no walls which sat just above the canal. Others had occupied an unfinished, two-storey indoor market also without walls adjacent to the canal. I offered my house to different old couples or people with young children. They all politely declined my offer explaining that they preferred to stay with their community and that they had free food and toilet facilities.
The next day, a neighbor came to my gate in her black rubber boots shouting frantically. By the tone of her voice, I imagined we were on a two-minute warning to get out. I grabbed a bag and shoved in some things. I rushed out of the house as her shouts seemed to be becoming more agitated.
We got to the end of the soi nearest the main road when I realized I hadn’t needed to bring my bag. My help was required to help unload a delivery of sandbags to build a wall at a part of the soi which had no wall to stop over-flowing water from the huge pond behind the houses opposite mine coming into the soi.
A short time later, I noticed that there was a buzz of activity at the other end of the dead-end soi by the 6 foot wall. One or two teenagers had climbed over and were in the waist deep water on the other side. As the plan became apparent, I volunteered to join them, thinking that being in the water might be a good option in the intense heat. We started feeling around in the unclear water for submerged sandbags, which had evidently been overwhelmed in their previous job of protecting a wooden canal-side home half under water. When we had retrieved a couple of sandbags each and hauled them up to people on the wall, a big plastic boat was passed over the wall from the soi. Thus, we were able to load the sandbags, made heavier by the water, into the boat and then when the boat was full pull it to the wall. The hardest part was then to pass these sodden, dripping weights up a small ladder and onto the top of the wall where people passed them down onto the bed of a pickup. It was back-breaking work, but at least we could take pauses lounging in the cool murky water.
After unloading each boatful, we had to turn the boat over to empty it of water and sand. Underfoot, one’s feet first felt the vegetation and squidgy mud of the small bank from the wall to a small canal side lane, then the comforting feel of tarmac. We then used our feet to feel for sandbags. When a sandbag was located, you then felt down with your hand to locate the open end of the sandbag to pull on. As the locals seemed at ease in the dubiously coloured water and even sometimes dived under, I tried not to think of snakes, crocodiles or water-borne diseases, and tried to keep my head above water. When, finally, it was deemed that enough bags had been pulled out of the water, we climbed back over the wall.
It was not until later that evening when us ‘sandbag divers’ were being treated to a meal in one of the neighbour’s houses that I learned that a one and a half metre crocodile had in fact been spotted in the floodwaters on the other side of the canal earlier that day.
Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul’s Top Man Tone Facebook Page…