Several dead, hundreds missing after dam collapse in Laos

Helicopter video from the scene shows whole villages under water

Massive flooding from a South Korean-constructed hydroelectric dam in Laos left several people dead and hundreds missing, state media said Tuesday.

More than 6,600 people are homeless, the Lao News Agency reported. Others boarded rickety wooden boats or stood on the roofs of partially submerged houses.

Five billion cubic metres of water swept through the surrounding countryside after the accident at the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam, which is still under construction.

"Some seven villages home to about 1,300 families and over 6,000 people were under water", the newspaper reports, citing the Attapeu Planning and Investment Department's director, Soulichanh Phonkeo.

This particular $1.2 billion dam is part of a project by Vientiane-based Xe Pian Xe Namnoy Power Company, a joint venture formed in 2012.

The area that collapsed is known as a "saddle dam".

Another official of SK Engineering & Construction said the company ordered the evacuation of 12 villages as soon as it became clear that the dam could collapse.

Fast-flowing water coming from the collapsed dam.

Fast-flowing water coming from the collapsed dam
SCREEN GRAB ABC LAOS Fast-flowing water coming from the collapsed dam

It said SK E&C is focusing on the rescue operation, using boats and other equipment to search for missing people. There were posts on social media that showed water rushing by villagers.

Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith suspended a planned monthly government meeting to monitor the rescue and relief efforts, the agency said.

Laos is one of the poorest countries in Asia. It said that approximately 347,000 people were affected by severe flooding in that disaster.

Environmental groups have long cautioned Laos over dozens of hydropower projects slated along the Mekong River, which could sever a major artery for the region. It was scheduled to open this year, but it was unclear if it had begun operating.

The plan was to export 90% of the electricity generated to Thailand, with the rest offered up on the local grid.

Among the companies involved in the project according to the Laos News Agency are Thailand's Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding, South Korea's Korea Western Power and the state-run Lao Holding State Enterprise.

SK E&C hold a 24 per cent stake in PNPC, LHSE 26 per cent, and RATCH and KOWEPO equally own the remaining share in the project.

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