Bangkok, Thailand.- Massive flooding from a South Korean-constructed hydroelectric dam in Laos left several people dead and hundreds missing, state media said Tuesday. Rescue efforts were underway as top government officials rushed to the site and public appeals were launched for aid. The official Lao news agency KPL said part of the XepianXe Nam Noy hydropower dam in southeastern Attapeu province collapsed Monday evening, releasing large amounts of water that swept away houses, flooded villages and made more than 6,600 people homeless.
The website of the state-run Vientiane Times newspaper said two people were confirmed dead as of Tuesday afternoon and the government had declared the area an emergency disaster zone. It said continued rain and strong winds predicted for the next few days could make the situation worse. KPL said the disaster “left hundreds of people missing,” without providing details.
Many areas of Laos have recently been hit by floods from heavy seasonal rains. The dam was built by a joint venture led by two South Korean companies with Thai and Lao partners, and was still under construction. SK Engineering & Construction, one of the two South Korean partners, said in a statement that “part of the upper area” of one of five auxiliary dams at the project “got swept away” Sunday night after several days of heavy rain.
It said the auxiliary dam consisted mainly of earth and rock. SK E&C said repair work was hampered by heavy rain, and damage to the dam worsened on Monday, causing water to overflow and flood seven out of 12 villages in the area. The company said it joined rescue efforts and was trying to contain further damage. Photos and videos posted on social media showed people sitting on rooftops to escape the surging water, while others were carried to safety or rescued by boat.
State media said helicopters were also being used to rescue people. Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith suspended his government’s planned Cabinet meeting and traveled with fellow ministers and other senior officials to Sanamxay district to monitor rescue and relief efforts, KPL and the Vientiane Times reported. Provincial authorities issued a call for emergency aid — clothing, food, drinking water, medicine, cash and other items — from the “party, government organizations, business community, officials, police and military forces and people of all strata.”