Hundreds of people are missing and several are feared dead after a hydropower dam under construction in Laos collapsed, causing flash flooding which swept away homes, state media reported on Tuesday.
Officials have sent boats to help evacuate people in the San Sai district of Attapeu province, where the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy 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,” a SK Engineering & Construction spokesman told Reuters by telephone.
The dam collapsed at 20.00 hours on Monday, releasing 5bn cubic meters of water and several hundred people are missing and homes have been swept away, the Lao News Agency said. It added that several people had died.
A video posted by the ABC Laos news on its Facebook page showed villagers stopping to watch fast-flowing water from the side of a river bank.
Communist Laos, one of Asia’s poorest and most secretive countries, aims to become the “battery of Asia” by selling power to its neighbors 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 2019 and export 90% 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 (EGAT).
The remaining 10% of power would be sold to the local grid under an agreement between the PNPC and the Electricite du Laos.