Floods from Laos dam collapse hit Cambodia; Singapore delivers aid to worst-hit areas

Cambodian soldiers evacuate residents by boat from the floods in Stung Treng province, on July 26, 2018.
Cambodian soldiers evacuate residents by boat from the floods in Stung Treng province, on July 26, 2018. PHOTO: AFP
Soldiers helped ferry villagers and their motorcycles to higher ground on wooden boats in Cambodia's north-eastern province of Stung Treng, while supplies were handed out to some who found refuge on dry land.
Soldiers helped ferry villagers and their motorcycles to higher ground on wooden boats in Cambodia's north-eastern province of Stung Treng, while supplies were handed out to some who found refuge on dry land. PHOTO: AFP
The SAF Mission Commander, Colonel Mohd Fahmi Aliman, handing aid supplies to Laos Vice-Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Baykham Khattiya yesterday, with officials, including Singapore Ambassador in Vientiane Dominic Goh (centre back, with red t
The SAF Mission Commander, Colonel Mohd Fahmi Aliman, handing aid supplies to Laos Vice-Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Baykham Khattiya yesterday, with officials, including Singapore Ambassador in Vientiane Dominic Goh (centre back, with red tie), looking on.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Thousands living by river evacuated as hunt goes on for 131 missing in Laotian province

Thousands of Cambodians living along the banks of the Sekong River have been evacuated as a deadly torrent of water unleashed by a collapsed dam in neighbouring Laos rushed downstream.

Soldiers helped ferry villagers and their motorcycles to higher ground on wooden boats in Cambodia's north-eastern province of Stung Treng, while supplies were handed out to some who found refuge on dry land.

"Water is still rising, so more people will be evacuated," Mr Men Kong, a government spokesman, told Agence France-Presse.

In the rain-lashed remote Laotian province of Attapeu, where part of the US$1.2 billion (S$1.6 billion) Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam gave way on Monday, rescuers race against time to hunt for those missing under swollen skies.

State media said yesterday that 27 people were confirmed dead and 131 missing in Attapeu, which borders Vietnam to the east and Cambodia to the south.

More than 3,000 - some of whom have clung to safety for the past three days on the zinc roofs of submerged homes - are reportedly still waiting to be rescued.

Specialists from China, Vietnam and Thailand joined Laotian soldiers and local volunteers in the search and rescue effort.

Yesterday afternoon, a Republic of Singapore Air Force C-130 left for Laos, loaded with food, bottled water, tents, medical supplies and rubber dinghies, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

The supplies were handed to Laos Vice-Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Baykham Khattiya by Singapore's Ambassador in Vientiane, Mr Dominic Goh, and SAF Mission Commander Mohd Fahmi Aliman, Mindef said.

A second C-130 aircraft will head for Laos today to deliver 11 large modular field tents, it added.

A three-man team from the Singapore Red Cross (SRC), shadowed by journalists from The Straits Times, also arrived in Attapeu yesterday after a four-hour drive from Pakse airport through muddy roads and fog.

 
 
 
 

Team leader Geraldine Aggarao, 36; communications specialist Samuel Lee, 31; and operations specialist Jacqueline Ng, 28, will work with the Lao Red Cross Society to deliver relief supplies to Sanamxay district, one of the province's worst-hit areas, and suss out what further help is needed.

Clad in white shirts bearing the iconic red cross, the trio drew some attention on their journey: A Lao Airlines employee worked up the courage to ask for a picture with the team; a mobile phone shop worker, upon learning about their upcoming work in Attapeu, stood up to say: "Thank you."

At a minimart on the way out of Pakse, cashier Souphaphone Souannavong, watching the SRC team heave packs of bottles out the door, told this reporter: "I thought no one would care about us. Nobody knows about Laos... But every day, I see foreign people coming here to help. My heart is healed a bit."

In the village of Khokong, a sea of mud oozed around the stilt houses that were still standing, and dead animals floated in the water. Villagers picked through their wrecked, mud-caked homes for possessions as the floodwaters receded.

A medical official who declined to be named said: "Seven villages were hit, two very badly. There were 200 houses and only about 10 are left standing.

"We retrieved one body today. I suspect there will be more as the water goes down and the road becomes easier to access."

He said villagers were warned about three to four hours before the dam burst, but few had expected the water to rise as high as it did.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said boat and helicopter were the only means of transport in the worst-affected areas.

Schools were being used as evacuation centres, and about 1,300 families needed tents for shelter, it said.

• Additional information from Agence France-Presse and Reuters

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2018, with the headline 'Floods from Laos dam collapse hit Cambodia'. Print Edition | Subscribe