Floods in Lop Buri
22nd October, 2010 (Sorry for the limited amount of photos but in a flood area its difficult to keep cameras dry especially when you are doing rescue work)
Friday Morning the Bangkok Free Ambulance and Team Thonglor (Ruamkatanyu) set out to Lop Buri to help out in a flood stricken area that had received little attention. One of our rescue friends’ family was living there and his grandfather was also very sick and stuck in his house. With little money, we had to all chip in together to come up with the petrol costs for the trip. We borrowed a boat and engine from a generous/nameless friend and began our journey.
When we arrived at Lop Buri we were quickly aware of the scale of the floods by the amount of alternate routes we had to take to get around flood stricken roads. When we finally arrived at Lop Buri city there were already many volunteers working there from various foundations but with little success since the water was so swift it was hard to be able to conduct successful and safe rescues. That very morning a rescue attempt went awry as a boat full of Poh Teck Tung rescue workers capsized and they themselves had to be rescued.
We left the 2 orange plastic donated boats and preceded on to the village that our friends family had told us about. Strangely enough that morning the ‘Daily News” had also been there to investigate the devastation and so by Friday it was news all over Thailand that this area had been hit hard and needed help. Luckily we were already there and ready to start helping out where we could.
We set up tents on the main road which was the only place left dry and prepared our boat for work. We liaised with the local government rescue services who were coordinating volunteers work. Within an hour we had our first job which was to rescue an overturned boat. Unfortunately it took us 30 minutes to get the engine started due to it being old and unused for so long! Luckily the people had found a tree to cling to and so were able to keep themselves safe until we arrived to help them.
Later that day we made trips inside the village area were amazingly people had adapted quickly to the flood waters and went about their business in canoes, helping their neighbours and doing what they could to make life bearable. One villager told me that their village flooded almost yearly now but this was the worst he had seen for the last 30 years. The temple, as always, became a communal area for the village and food from the mainland was first transported here and then distributed out among the village from here by the village elders.
There was no running water or electricity, drains and sewers had erupted, and the stagnant areas smelled incredibly bad. Snakes were abundant, as well as hordes of mosquitoes. It was a nightmare trying to sleep at night on the boiling asphalt road with mosquitoes and snakes everywhere you turned. I thought I could not sleep this first night but finally I fell off to sleep in the coolness of the early morning. We were awaken at 5am by a large cobra trying to get into someone’s tent but after the commotion subsided we were treated to a magnificent sunrise. It was kind of surreal to see this beautiful sight hanging over such misery
The second day was time for our first dead body that had been found by villagers. An old man of about 70 years of age. We wrapped him in our traditional white cloth and then placed him on our boat for the journey to the temple. Normally we wait for the police but they gave us the go ahead by phone since it was too difficult for them to make their way to where we were. We took the body to the temple as the family wished and left it there. I wondered how long it would remain there since the crematorium was flooded too.
The rest of our time was used in helping with relief supplies, tending to the sick or injured, and helping out wherever we could. Sunday was to see a plethora of people coming to bori-jak (donate) things for the people of these devastated villages: food and household items where everywhere and there were literally queues of cars with things to donate. It was nice to see but I couldn’t help thinking that the people of these villages would continue to suffer in many ways long after the generous people had gone home. Would the government ever be able to control the endless floods Thailand endures year after year. My heart wished it so but my experience in Thailand over the last 10 years told me otherwise.
Late Sunday night we returned to Bangkok since everyone had to go to work the next day. This month we will have to take turns working in our ambulances since we have little money for petrol to have more than one vehicle on the road at a time. This is the life for the rescue volunteers of Thailand, unsung heroes, misunderstood and sometimes belittled, but for me they are true altruists who would give their last satang for another.
All in all it was a successful and worthwhile trip.