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Bodies found amid flooding, hundreds remain missing in Laos

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The bodies of 17 people have been recovered after flash floods caused by a dam breach in southern Laos, according to an official at the scene.

Roof-level flood waters have submerged several villages near the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy dam, Thai consular official Chana Miencharoen told AFP news agency on Wednesday.

“There are 17 bodies recovered so far, but we can not estimate the number of missing yet,” Miencharoen said.

Hundreds missing

Hundreds of people are reported missing following the collapse of the under-construction hydropower dam, which released some five billion cubic metres of water, at 8pm local time (13:00 GMT) on Monday.

The disaster left more than 6,600 people homeless, the Lao News Agency reported on Tuesday. It showed pictures of villagers wading through muddy floodwater carrying their belongings. Others boarded rickety wooden boats or stood on the roofs of partially submerged houses.

Landlocked Laos is one of Asia’s poorest countries but aims to become the region’s “battery” by selling power to neighbours through a series of hydropower dams.

Environmental rights groups have for years raised concerns about the country’s hydropower ambitions, including worries over the impact of dams on the Mekong River, its flora and fauna and the rural communities and local economies that depend on it.

‘Major safety risks’
Maureen Harris, an expert on Laotian dams at the International Rivers NGO, said the flooding raised questions about the standard and safety of dams within the country.

“This break shows the major risks from dams being built, and dam designs that are unable to cope with extreme weather events, such as very heavy rains that we’ve seen in the last few days,” Harris told Al Jazeera.

The $1.2bn project planned to export 90 percent of its electricity to energy-hungry Thailand and the remaining amount was to be offered up on the local grid.

The 410-megawatt capacity dam was supposed to start commercial operations by 2019, according to the venture’s website.

[source: Al Jazeera]
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