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Rescuers struggle to reach stranded villages in Myanmar dam flooding

China Daily | Updated: 2018-08-31 10:38
A rescuer carries an elderly woman through floodwater caused by the collapsed spillway at the Swar Chaung dam in Bago region, Myanmar, on Wednesday. Soe Than Lynn / Xinhua

BAGO, 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 neighboring 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 said.

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.

Minister of Construction Han Zaw said on Thursday that 500 people are working to fix the road, which will take about two days.

"(We) are trying to get the situation of transportation back to normal as much as we can," Han Zaw said.

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.

Work was under way 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 heavy weight of the floods also fractured part of a bridge on the Yangon-Mandalay highway linking Myanmar's two biggest cities, throwing the country's traffic artery into disarray.

Currently more than 12,600 people have taken shelter in about 30 temporary camps, but many others are at a loss for what to do.

Kyi Win, 46, managed to return to his village to check on the state of his home but said he will continue staying in a temporary shelter.

"Some of the houses are completely destroyed," he said, explaining that the toilet of his house has been wrecked. "For now, I'll stay (at the monastery) because I can't come back here."

The deluge came just weeks after heavy monsoon rains pummeled Myanmar, causing widespread flash floods that forced some 150,000 people to flee their homes.

Afp - Reuters

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