Battambang Rising : Cambodia’s Second City Faces Severe FloodingAugust 3, 2005
The sociable groups of locals gathered by the River Sangker last night were no longer looking at the benign stream of brown water that usually weaves its way blandly through Cambodia’s second city before winding past the Buddhist Wats and Muslim villages dotted around this smiling landscape.
The almost fun fair environment brought by the crowds of gawping onlookers belied the fact that Battambang was, last night, on the brink of serious flooding.
Far from benign now, the Sangker River has bloated grotesquely and to the alarm of the authorities is in danger of bursting its banks and ruining the placid charm of Cambodia’s best preserved colonial era town.
Dawn today saw locals dismounting bikes to check whether the river had risen again during the night. It had, and the shanty like shops by the side of the town?s metal bridge were now knee deep in water whilst the fast moving current was lapping the underside of the bridge itself.
As dawn turned into morning the town was pervaded by an undercurrent of quiet worry and concern. Some people, caught in a state of emotional unprepared ness feigned amusement, whilst other looked horrified. Texts were sent by mobile phone. Moving pictures of the pregnant riverbanks were sent by more affluent young Khmer students with new generation mobile phones. ?I?ve not seen the river like this for ten years,? one middle aged Khmer woman told me.
By midmorning the authorities had hastily closed the town?s pedestrian footbridge and were precariously trying to disentangle the large and ragged tangle of uprooted small trees and brushes that had become attached to the bridges support structure. This debris had been carried downriver in the centre of the fast flowing Sankger.
By lunchtime the riverbanks were just about holding but small canals and tributaries had burst and were causing flooding in the town itself along Road 3, a cheerful commercial street lined with noisy shophouses and set back from the town’s picturesque riverbank.
The impact of all this for tourists is that the boat trip to Siem Reap has been suspended for now. The river level means that boats of any description (even a humble sampan) cannot fit under the Battambang’s bridges.
The impact for locals could be more costly.
At sundown today it seemed like the town had received a reprieve as the situation looked a little more promising. The river level has stabilised. Whether this is temporary or not we will discover tomorrow. If there is any more heavy rain at the watershed of the Stung Sangke, which is located to the west flowing from the hills along the Thai border, then this normally laid back town with its provincial charm is in grave danger of being eaten up by a torrent of water.