More than 1,200 families safe as Lao dam flood hits

Source: Phnom Penh Post

Displaced residents arrive by boat in floodwaters in the Lao province of Attapeu after a dam collapsed on July 23. In Cambodia’s Stung Treng province people have been evacuated to higher ground as waters from the disaster raise the level of a local river. Handout / ATTAPEU TODAY / AFP

Authorities in Cambodia’s northern Strung Treng province were on Wednesday continuing to evacuate, to higher ground, villagers who have been affected by flooding from a collapsed Laos hydropower dam.

More than 1,200 families had already been moved to safe ground, Stung Treng province spokesperson Men Kung told The Post on Wednesday evening.

He added that flooding from the collapse of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam in the Lao province of Attapeu is still causing waters to rise, up to nearly 12 metres.

“The water level continued to rise to 11.4 metres as of 5pm Wednesday. Siem Pang district was the most flooded area, which included four communes and 17 villages,” Kung said.

According to the most recent updates from Laos government officials, 26 bodies have been recovered from the flood, while hundreds of people remain missing.

Kung said that Stung Treng authorities have cooperated with all security forces in carrying out the evacuation measures.

“We have more than 700 people together with many military trucks to help evacuate villagers at risk,” Kung said.

He added that provincial authorities had joined forces and brought supplies, including canned food, instant noodles and bottled water, which were donated by the Red Cross, the Disaster Management Department and other organisations.

Kung noted that there were no deaths reported from the flooding in Stung Treng.

Keo Vy, spokesperson for the National Committee for Natural Disaster Management, said only Siem Pang district was flooded and waters had not yet risen to an alarming level.

Vy said the provincial authorities have set up a standby taskforce to aid villagers in the affected areas, as they aim to keep accidents to a minimum.

Authorities also handed out insecticide-treated mosquito nets to the displaced families.

An announcement from the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology on Wednesday said that the Se Kong river in Stung Treng province had risen sharply and called for increased caution.

Meanwhile, information trickled slowly out of Laos on Wednesday as the publicity-shy country tried to get to grips with the disaster.

Volunteers on Wednesday prepare meals for displaced residents seeking shelter in Paksong town, Champasak province following massive flooding from a collapsed dam. YE AUNG THU/afp

The Vientiane Times reported that 3,000 people were in need of rescue as of Wednesday afternoon, taking shelter in trees and on rooftops.

Footage on Laos television showed people huddled on roofs awaiting rescue as muddy water swirled menacingly just below them, with the army and local volunteers leading the rescue effort.

The Laotian prime minister said on Wednesday that 131 people were still missing two days after the dam collapsed, swamping several villages in the country’s south and killing at least 26 people.

In a rare televised press conference by the leader of the secretive communist country, Thongloun Sisoulith gave the most specific figure so far for the number unaccounted for.

Earlier official reports spoke of hundreds missing in Attapeu province.

“One hundred and thirty one people have been reported missing,” he said, adding all of them were Lao nationals.

Survivors have questioned why they got little warning of the deluge, which inundated several villages across a vast area with several metres of flood water.

Two South Korean contractors said they had reported damage a day before parts of the dam gave way on Monday and unleashed a wall of water.

Information trickled slowly out of Laos as the publicity-shy country tried to get to grips with the disaster.

Questions began to emerge over the collapse, with some of the displaced saying they were warned to leave their homes only hours before disaster struck.

“It happened quickly, we had little time to prepare ourselves,” Joo Hinla, 68, from one of the worst-hit villages of Ban Hin Lath, told AFP from a warehouse crammed with over 700 displaced people in a neighbouring province.

“All of the houses in my village are under water. Four of my family are missing, we don’t know about their fate yet.”

Additional reporting by afp

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