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Laos dam collapse: rains hamper search for survivors

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Rescuers work at a flooded site after a hydropower dam collapsed in Attapeu Province on July 23,2018. The search for survivors has been hampered by monsoon weather. Reuters

ATTAPEU (AFP) – Rescuers battled fresh rains to reach scores of people still missing after a dam collapse in southern Laos that unleashed a torrent of water, washing away whole villages and killing at least 26 people.

The search for survivors has been hampered by monsoon weather in the remote southern corner of Laos where the Xe-Namnoy dam collapsed on Monday.

Panicked residents took flight, taking refuge on rooftops or making their way to evacuation centres where some said they were given just a few hours’ warning of the looming disaster.

Boats and helicopters were dispatched to find people still trapped by the widespread flooding that has left at least 131 missing, with road access cut completely in many areas.

Vietnam dispatched military and medical personnel to support rescue efforts and Thailand said it was sending close to $150,000 in aid.

China’s foreign ministry also said it was “willing to promptly provide active support and assistance to the Laos disaster relief work”.

Around a dozen Chinese rescuers in helmets and life jackets joined rescuers in Sanamxai town yesterday near the dam site, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

State media said more than 3,000 people were left homeless by the deluge, many squeezing into makeshift shelters where they recounted the terrifying scramble to escape the swirling brown floodwaters.

The $1.2 billion dollar Xe-Namnoy dam, a joint venture between Laos and Korean companies, was still under construction in southern Attepeu province when it collapsed after heavy rains pounded the area earlier this week.

Two South Korean companies involved in the project’s construction said damage was reported a day before the auxiliary “Saddle D” dam collapsed. However a timeline from operator Korea Western Power Co. obtained by AFP said 11 centimetres of subsidence was spotted at the dam’s centre as early as Friday.

“It remains unclear what caused the dam to subside in some places and develop cracks. But all of these happened under heavy rains,” a Korea Western Power spokesman told AFP.

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