Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Mud hampers Laos dam rescue as hundreds still unaccounted for



Mud hampers Laos dam rescue as hundreds still unaccounted for

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
This picture taken on Friday shows a resident returning to his home from Sanamxai district, Attapeu province, after floodwaters from a dam collapse had receded. Nhac NGUYEN/AFP

Mud hampers Laos dam rescue as hundreds still unaccounted for

Rescuers battled thick mud and flood waters across a swathe of remote southern Laos to find survivors of a deadly dam burst that submerged entire villages, as an official suggested faulty construction may have led to the disaster.

The exact number of dead and missing from Monday’s dam collapse remains a mystery because of the complexity of the rescue operation in an inaccessible area and the secretive reflexes of Laos’ Communist authorities in the face of an unprecedented crisis.

“The search is very complicated, many areas cannot be accessed by cars or boats. Also we have limited modern equipment to bring to the field,” deputy secretary of Attapeu province committee Meenaporn Chaichompoo told reporters Friday.

The head of the rescue mission Kumriang Authakaison said Saturday that eight people are confirmed dead, down from 27 reported by officials earlier this week. He added that 123 were confirmed missing.

But conflicting information swirled about how many remain unaccounted for after Chaichompoo said Friday “we can’t find 1,126 people”, without elaborating.

Makeshift shelters are packed with thousands of people who fled their homes in panic with just a few hours’ notice of the impending disaster, now spending their days on plastic mats waiting for news of missing neighbours.

All karaoke bars and entertainment venues were ordered to tone down loud music and celebrations in the province as the nation mourned the calamity, the most devastating to hit Laos’ contentious hydropower sector.

A stretch of land dozens of kilometres long and wide was submerged when the Xe-Namnoy dam collapsed after heavy rains.

Slowly retreating floodwaters have cut off access to villages and covered much of the area with thick, sticky mud.

“This is one of the worst [disasters] I’ve ever seen. Especially because we’re not a very strong country in terms of rescue operations,” a volunteer rescue worker told AFP, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media.

Poor construction?

Days into the treacherous search for survivors, questions are being raised about the quality of the construction of the $1.2 billion dam, a joint venture between South Korean, Laotian and Thai firms.

Operators said it burst after heavy rains in a country regularly battered by monsoons.

But Laos Minister of Energy and Mines Khammany Inthirath said poor design may have contributed to the accident, according to state media and Radio Free Asia.

“It might be construction technique that led to the collapse after it was affected by the rain,” he told RFA in an interview broadcast Friday.

One of the Korean firms involved in the project, SK Engineering & Construction, said it was investigating the cause of the dam break and would donate $10 million in relief aid.

The accident has kicked up criticism of Laos’ ambitious dam-building scheme as it bids to become a major power exporter, billing itself the “battery of Asia” with more than 50 projects set to go online by 2020.

The majority of energy generated in the tiny, landlocked country is sold to its neighbours, mostly to Thailand where much of it is sucked up in the sweaty, energy-hungry capital Bangkok.

Villagers have complained of being relocated – sometimes repeatedly – while river waters crucial for fishing and farming have been diverted, destroying livelihoods in one of Asia’s poorest countries.

MOST VIEWED

  • Volunteer scheme to foster ‘virtuous’ humanitarian spirit

    A senior education official said volunteer work contributes to solidarity and promotes a virtuous humanitarian spirit among the youth and communities. Serei Chumneas, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the comment during the opening of a training programme called “

  • Chinese firms unveil preliminary results on metro, monorail for capital

    Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol and representatives from China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and its parent company, the state-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC), met on June 24 for talks on results of the firms’ preliminary study on a potential metro

  • ACLEDA, WU to enable global money transfers

    Cambodia's largest commercial bank by total assets ACLEDA Bank Plc and global money transfer firm Western Union (WU) have partnered to offer customers cross-border money transfers to 200 countries via “ACLEDA mobile” app. In Channy, president and group managing director of ACLEDA, said the June 22 agreement

  • Walmart plans to diversify stock of Cambodia goods

    Walmart Inc, the world’s biggest retailer, on June 22 reiterated recent plans to scale up and greatly diversify its purchases of Cambodian products, according to the labour ministry. This came during a virtual working meeting between Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Samheng and

  • Cambodia detects new Covid cases after 52 days: PM

    After 52 days of zero new Covid-19 cases, Cambodia has now detected new infections, according to Prime Minister Hun Sen. In his special audio address to the nation late on June 28, Hun Sen said the new cases were detected on people who had undergone PCR tests

  • Cotton club growing in Battambang

    The global market for “vegan leather” – materials that act as alternatives to traditional leather that can be synthesised from cork, apple peels, cactus, recycled plastic, grape pomace and pineapple leaves, among other things, and supposedly require no chemicals or water to produce – is expected to