Hundreds missing after hydroelectric dam collapses in Laos

(PA Graphics)

A hydroelectric dam has collapsed in south-eastern Laos, leaving an unknown number of people dead and hundreds missing, state media said.

Rescue efforts are under way at the site of the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam in Attapeu province.

The dam collapsed on Monday evening, releasing large amounts of water that swept away houses and made more than 6,600 people homeless.

It was constructed by a joint venture led by South Korean companies, with Thai and Lao partners.

The project was still under construction, KPL reported. It described the portion that collapsed as a “saddle dam”, which is an auxiliary dam used to hold water beyond what is held by the main dam.

Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith “suspended the planned monthly meeting of the government for August and led his Cabinet members and other senior officials to Sanamxay (district) to monitor rescue and relief efforts being made for flood victims,” KPL said.

Hundreds of people are missing after the deluge Credit: Attapeu Today/AP

Many areas of Laos have recently been hit by floods from heavy seasonal rains.

Provincial authorities have issued a call for emergency aid – clothing, food, drinking water, medicine, cash and other items – from the “party, government organisations, business community, officials, police and military forces and people of all strata”.

Laos, one of the poorest countries in Asia, has transitioned from communism to a market economy, but remains a single-party state where freedoms are limited. There is virtually no freedom of the press, and foreign reporters who visit operate under tight restrictions, limiting the flow of information.

Electricity from several hydroelectric dams provides a large share of Laos’ export earnings, with Thailand being a major buyer.

KPL said the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy project cost an estimated 1.02 billion dollars (£777 million).

According to the website of the company that built and runs the dam, it is majority-owned by two South Korean companies, SK Engineering and Construction and Korea Western Power.

The area has been left devastated by the collapse Credit: Attapeu Today/AP

Most of the financing for the project came from Thai lenders. The Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding Public Co of Thailand holds a 25% stake, while the Lao Holding State Enterprise holds 24%.

The dam was built to divert the Houay Makchanh, Xe-Namnoy and Xe-Pian rivers into reservoirs that feed into a 410-megawatt power plant designed to generate 1,879 gigawatts of power a year, with 90% of the power being exported to Thailand and the remaining 10% used locally.

The project is a 27-year concession and was due to begin operating in 2019, a year later than originally planned.

The dam sits on a volcanic plateau divided by a river gorge, and the catchment area accounts for 17% of the Mekong river’s annual flow.

Roughly 10,000 people live in the affected area, with most belonging to ethnic minorities.