BODIES of 17 people have been found with hundreds still missing after the collapse of a dam in southern Laos caused flash floods on Monday.
The Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam’s collapse sent five billion cubic metres of water through a number of neighbouring villages, destroying homes and displacing at least 1600 families, according to the state-run Lao News Agency.
“There are 17 bodies recovered so far, but we cannot estimate the number of missing yet,” Thai consular official Chana Miencharoen told the AFP on Wednesday.
“All the dead are Laotian … more than 6,000 are affected from eight villages near the dam,” he said.
The disaster took place in remote area of Attapeu province now only accessible by helicopter and flat-bottomed boats, frustrating rescue efforts. Many roads have been damaged or destroyed by the flooding.
The South Korean company supporting the construction of the dam said the upper part of the structure had washed away 24 hours before its collapse.
“We immediately alerted the authorities and began evacuating (nearby) villagers downstream,” SK Engineering & Construction said in a statement.
“We will continue with rescue efforts today but it’s very difficult, the conditions are very difficult. Dozens of people are dead. It could be higher,” a Laotian official told Reuters.
One of Asia’s poorest countries, Laos has in recent years pursued an ambitious dam construction scheme in order to become the “battery of Asia”. It exports most of the hydropower energy to neighbouring countries like Thailand.
Environmental and rights groups have criticised the dam construction, saying it threatens livelihoods and the natural environment across the whole Mekong region.