YANGON • More than 50,000 people were evacuated from their homes after water from a breached dam flooded communities in central Myanmar yesterday and caused the closure of a major highway linking the main cities of Yangon, Mandalay and the capital Naypyitaw, officials said.
The Myanmar Fire Services Department dispatched a fire brigade to the Swar irrigation dam after it breached at 5.30am, sending water into the nearby town of Swar and two villages.
"The (spillway) of the dam was broken and flooded the two villages close to the highway road," the fire department said on Facebook.
Many people, including some not directly hit by flooding, had decided to leave their homes for fear that the water level could rise further, said an official of the Natural Disaster Management Department, who asked not to be identified in the absence of authorisation to speak to the media.
In all, 12,000 households or a total of 54,000 people had been displaced, said another official from the Department of Relief and Resettlement, who also declined to be named.
Photographs posted on Facebook showed soldiers evacuating people on makeshift rafts and kayaks, and carrying children and the elderly through knee-deep floodwaters.
Mr Mya Min said water had stopped flowing from the breached dam at about 2pm, adding: "You can see there is only a third of the normal amount of water left in the dam."
Government spokesman Zaw Htay said there were no casualties reported as of early afternoon. The authorities were working on "relocation and prevention" and using old roads to allow travel in the area, he added.
Fire officials closed a bridge on the Yangon-Mandalay highway over the Swar creek. "The water is not over the bridge but the flow under the bridge is very strong," said Naypyitaw-based journalist Min Min, who was at the scene.
Myanmar army's commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing and Vice-President Henry Van Thio were briefed on the incident by local officials, according to social media posts that showed them visiting the dam and the flooded area.
The dam was built across the Swar creek in 2004 and irrigates more than 8,000ha of farmland, according to a Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation document posted online.
Heavy monsoon rain causes widespread flooding in Myanmar every year. Downpours displaced more than 100,000 people and killed at least 11 last month.
The Myanmar government is weighing a number of dam projects that would generate electricity to address chronic power shortages in the country, but the projects are controversial due to their potential environmental impact.
A hydroelectric dam collapsed in neighbouring Laos last month, displacing thousands of people and killing at least 27, highlighting the safety concerns over many dams in South-east Asia.