Top Chiang Mai pagoda may collapse

Sacred mountain-top temple sits on soft soil

CHEEWIN SATTHA CHINNAWAT SINGHA

The pagoda of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, one of Chiang Mai's landmark sites, is at risk of collapse amid heavy rains, experts say.

The findings of a study on the structure of the sacred mountain-top temple _ conducted jointly by the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) and Chiang Mai University in 1997 and 1998 _ were raised by Sahawat Naenna, director of Chiang Mai's Fine Arts Office, during a meeting to discuss development strategies for upper northern provinces yesterday.

Mr Sahawat said the study indicated that the temple stood on soft soil and part of the area where the pagoda is situated was developed from a landfill. More importantly, the level of underground water was very low, measuring at 20 metres. Such a low water level increased the risk of landslides when it rained heavily.

"We had earlier informed the temple [about the possible collapse of the pagoda], but the abbot did not do anything. We raised the issue with caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during his recent visit to Chiang Mai, and he instructed us to gather more information," Mr Sahawat said.

He said the researchers also suggested that the temple should not construct more buildings on the temple grounds, but nobody paid attention to them.

He said the pagoda has deteriorated. The humidity from the ground is directed into the body of the pagoda, which is wrapped entirely with changkot gold. In other words, the pagoda is saturated with water which visibly leaks out from the cracks when it is hot.

The Fine Arts Department has estimated that the cost of reinforcing the pagoda by injecting cement into it would be four to five million baht. The cost would be higher, at 100 million baht, if reinforcements are made also to the pagoda's base, said Mr Sahawat.

Meanwhile, several cracks measuring around one metre wide were found on the Phetchabun mountain ridge, which stretches into Phitsanulok, after days of heavy rain, sparking fears of mudslides and forest run-offs among residents.

Samrarn Ounmuang, 65, a resident of tambon Chomphu in Phitsanulok's Noen Maprang district, said there were 12 spots on the Phetchabun mountain which had developed cracks after heavy downpours hit the district for many consecutive days. Many residents feared that heavy rain might seep into the cracks and create conditions for landslides and mudslides. Several lowland villages could be badly hit, he said.

Praphan Phu-ngarm, district chief, said officials would be sent to the tambon today to survey the cracks.

The Meteorological Department yesterday forecast heavy downpours in the North, Northeast and Central Plain regions in the next few days.

The department said in its third announcement that a low pressure ridge was now looming over the lower North, the upper Central region and the Northeast and there would be heavy rain in eight northern provinces, three central provinces and three lower northeastern provinces.

The Mineral Resources Department yesterday told those living near mountains in the North to brace for possible landslides and run-offs.

In Uttaradit, several areas in tambon Nakham in Muang district were inundated. Heavy rains which hit the province on Saturday caused forest run-offs in several villages in Muang district, with Haiha village being the worst hit.

Bangkok Post (11/09/06)