BANGKOK - Hundreds of people are missing and several are dead after a hydropower dam under construction in southern Laos collapsed, causing flash floods which swept away homes.
The disaster left more than 6,600 people homeless, state media Lao News Agency reported yesterday. It showed pictures of villagers wading through muddy flood waters carrying their belongings. Others boarded rickety boats or stood on the roofs of submerged houses.
Officials have brought in boats to help evacuate people in the San Sai district of Attapeu province, where the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower dam is located, as water levels rise after the collapse, ABC Laos news reported.
The company building the dam said heavy rain and flooding caused the collapse, and it was cooperating with the Laos government to help rescue villagers near the dam.
"We are running an emergency team and planning to help evacuate and rescue residents in villages near the dam," an SK Engineering and Construction spokesman said.
The dam collapsed on Monday, releasing 5 billion cubic m of water. Several hundred people are missing and homes have been swept away, the Lao News Agency reported, adding that several people have also been killed.
A video posted by ABC Laos news on its Facebook page showed villagers stopping to watch fastflowing water from the riverbank.
Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith has suspended government meetings and led Cabinet members to monitor rescue and relief efforts in one of the affected areas, the state agency reported.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he was deeply saddened to learn of the tragedy after news of the collapse broke.
"Our deepest sympathies to all affected by this tragedy. We have contacted the Laotians to offer assistance, and to let them know that Singapore stands ready to help in whatever way we can," PM Lee wrote on social media.
Communist Laos, one of Asia's poorest and most secretive countries, is land-locked and aims to become the "battery of Asia" by selling power to its neighbours through a series of hydropower dams.
Environmental rights groups have for years raised concerns about Laos' hydropower ambitions, including worries over the impact of dams on the Mekong River, its flora and fauna, and the rural communities and local economies that depend on it.
The collapsed dam was expected to start commercial operations by next year and export 90 per cent of its power to Thailand under a power purchase agreement between the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Power Company (PNPC) and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand. The remaining 10 per cent of power would be sold to the local grid under an agreement between the PNPC and the Electricite du Laos.