Myanmar dam breach floods 85 villages, thousands driven from homes
August 30 2018 08:50 AM
Myanmar soldiers use a boat to help residents cross a flooded area in Swar town of Bago region
Myanmar soldiers use a boat to help residents cross a flooded area in Swar town of Bago region.

Reuters/AFP/Creek dam, Myanmar

As many as 85 villages were flooded in Myanmar after a dam failed, unleashing waters that blocked a major highway and forced more than 63,000 people from their homes, a state-run newspaper said on Thursday.

The disaster spotlights safety concerns about dams in Southeast Asia after last month's collapse of a hydroelectric dam in neighbouring Laos that displaced thousands of people and killed at least 27.

Firefighters, troops and officials launched a desperate rescue effort on Wednesday after the spillway of an irrigation dam burst at Swar creek in central Myanmar, sending a torrent of water through villages and the nearby towns of Swar and Yedashe.

By Thursday morning the water was receding, but two people remained missing and were feared to have been washed away, said Min Thu, deputy administrator of Yedashe.

"People whose villages are on higher ground are preparing to go back to their villages," he told Reuters.

The ruptured spillway had flooded 85 villages, affecting more than 63,000 people and submerging a section of highway, the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

Traffic between Myanmar's major cities of Yangon and Mandalay and the capital, Naypyitaw, was disrupted after the flooding damaged a bridge on the highway linking the cities.

Internal probe

Work was underway on Thursday to repair the dam, where the water level had dropped by several meters, exposing sandy banks.

A priority was to get as much water into the reservoir as possible before the dry season when it is needed for irrigation, said Kaung Myat Thein, an irrigation official at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation.

He said a probe would seek the cause of the dam breach.

"The retaining wall of the spillway sank into the foundation about 4-5 feet, causing the flooding, but the main dam is intact," said Kaung Myat Thein.

Days before the breach, authorities had given the all-clear to the dam, which can hold 216,350 acre-feet of water, despite residents' concerns about overspill, state-run media have said.

Kaung Myat Thein said the dam was regularly inspected and a spillway collapse could not have been predicted.

"We could not know one day before, one hour before," he said.

Fields ruined

As floodwaters receded, elders gathered at Oo Yin Hmu, a village of about 1,000 people only a few miles downstream from the dam, to review the damage.

Paddy fields stretching from the edge of the village were inundated. It would be years before they could be planted with rice again, said Zaw Zaw, a 45-year-old farmer.

Residents ran to higher ground to escape the floodwaters, he said, but many lost their homes and possessions and were expected to ask the regional government for compensation.

"My house was at the northern part of the village and all houses in the northern part didn't survive," said Pan Ei Phyu, 24, a villager who escaped with her family, buffalos and cows.

"All of my farmland is turned into mud now. I don't have land or anything else anymore. I don't know what to do."

Rescuers struggle to reach stranded

Rescuers in boats negotiated muddy waters on Thursday to reach thousands stranded in central Myanmar .

AFP reporters in Bago province saw soldiers sporting orange life jackets employed to rescue the stranded, steering tin boats to waiting villagers huddled on mudflats.

Trucks were lodged in murky waters while roads had buckled under the weight of the waters, which continued to flow across the villages.

Reeling from the loss of his home, Wai Lin Aung, 27, said there was no warning from authorities on what to do after the dam overflowed.

"No one told us what we needed to do so we just monitored the water levels and as the situation became worse, we just ran," he told AFP, adding that he had stayed at a monastery overnight.

"How can I feel comfortable seeing my house destroyed? I have nowhere to live and nothing to eat."

Myanmar experiences a monsoon season that goes from June to November, but locals in Yedashe township said that they have never witnessed such a torrent of water.

"It was like something we couldn't believe," Phyu Thi, 35, said.

Last updated: August 30 2018 01:28 PM

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