BANGKOK -- Thailand's state-owned enterprise Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding said Tuesday unexpected heavy rains caused a dam in southern Laos to collapse, reportedly killing at least several people in the area and leaving hundreds unaccounted for.
The hydropower dam under construction on a Mekong River tributary in southern Laos collapsed late Monday, flooding neighboring villages with as much as five billion cubic meters of water, according to local media. The operator of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Hydroelectric Power Project is a joint venture between multinational companies such as Ratchaburi, South Korea's SK Engineering and Construction, Korea Western Power and Lao Holding State Enterprise.
Ratchaburi said in a statement that high volumes of rainwater fractured the dam and caused a deluge in the downstream area of Xe-Pian River. Lao state-owned Laos News Agency reported that six villages in the Sanxamay district of the southern Attapeu Province were hit by a flash flood while some 6,600 people, or 1,300 families, have lost their homes. Villagers are being evacuated by authorities to temporary shelters.
Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith reportedly cancelled a government meeting and headed to the devastated area with his cabinet members.
The dam was 90% completed and operation was due to start in 2019. According to a Ratchaburi announcement in 2013 when construction began, 90% of the electricity generated, equivalent to 370 megawatts, was to be sent to Thailand.
With an ambition to become the "battery of Southeast Asia," Laos has been aggressively building hydropower dams on its rivers to sell electricity to neighboring countries.
While western countries have been reluctant to fund the dams due to environmental concerns such as the impact on fish migration on the Mekong River, companies from countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, China and South Korea have been investing in the projects.