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Satellite images reveal Thai flood plight

By Matthew Knight, CNN
November 3, 2011 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
  • Images from NASA satellites show how the floods in Thailand have inundated the land
  • Historic city of Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok, struggles to cope with flood waters
  • Don Muang Airport in Bangkok closed at end of October as runway became submerged

(CNN) -- These satellite photos taken before and after recent floods in Thailand show how the landscape has been transformed.

The first slide contrasts two identical areas of Southeast Asia taken on November 12 2008 and November 1 2011.

Captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA's Terra satellite, the images show Thailand (left), Cambodia (middle) and Vietnam (far right).

One hundred kilometers north of the Thai capital, Bangkok lies the historic city of Ayutthaya.

Founded in the 14th century on the confluence of three rivers -- the Chao Phraya, the Lopburi and the Pasak -- it was an important trade center, once known as the "Venice of the East."

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Today, that old moniker takes on a new meaning. Streets have become small rivers with surrounding farmland and floodplains submerged as images taken in July and October this year by NASA's Advanced Land Imager graphically illustrate.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that around 200,000 hectares of farmland have been affected by the floods across the country.

The urban economy has also been thrown into flux with an estimated 1,000 factories affected.

The country is a manufacturing hub for hundreds of electronics companies; the IUCN expects total economic losses from the disaster to exceed $3 billion.

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On the northern outskirts of Bangkok, the Don Muang Airport -- the city's old international airport which now handles mostly domestic flights -- closed at the end of October after its runways became inundated with water.

Perversely, Bangkok's new international Suvarnabhumi Airport (opened in 2006) occupies an area called Nong Ngu Hao (meaning Cobra Swamp) which used to be a floodplain. It is protected by a dike and remains open.

The IUCN says natural floodplains are important in storing water during floods and in combination with wetlands and natural river channels can limit the impact of flooding.

"It's a classic case of urbanization being done blindly," says Ganesh Pangare, head of IUCN's water program in Asia.

"The drains have gone, the floodplains have gone, the plants that soak up the water have gone. This is a wake-up call to unplanned growth," he said.

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