A dam that collapsed in southern Laos has flooded villages and forced thousands of people to flee, state media report. The full scale of the disaster isn't yet known — several people reportedly were killed and hundreds of people were missing after the failure of the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy dam, which is part of a larger hydroelectric dam network.
The state news agency KPL reports that the collapse released 5 billion cubic meters of waters, sweeping away several houses in the Sanamxay district of Attapeu province.
Photos from the area show desperate people crowded onto long boats to escape the high water, while others climbed onto rooftops with the belongings they could carry. Officials were asking neighboring provinces for assistance — and for anyone with a boat to help ferry people to safety.
The flash flooding happened Monday night, according to the state-sponsored Vientiane Times newspaper, which says a "saddle dam" was overcome at a reservoir for a power plant — part of an ongoing project to construct a series of hydroelectric dams in southern Laos.
"Some seven villages home to about 1,300 families and over 6,000 people were under water," the newspaper reports, citing the Attapeu Planning and Investment Department's director, Soulichanh Phonkeo.
Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith suspended a monthly government meeting to visit the stricken region and review evacuation and relief efforts along with members of his cabinet, according to KPL.
The Xe-Namnoy River was diverted in April 2015 as part of the hydroelectric project.