Death Toll Rises in Floods, Landslides in Laos

Reports are still coming in from remote areas hit by heavy rains, officials say.

Flooding is shown in the Xaythany district of the Lao capital Vientiane, Sept. 5, 2018.

The number of dead continues to climb as updated reports come in from remote areas of Laos hit by flooding and landslides in recent weeks, Lao sources say.

In Houaphanh province in eastern Laos, heavy rains last week poured down a mountain into a valley, flooding a small river and slamming into villages nearby, an official of the province’s Labor and Social Welfare Department told RFA’s Lao Service on Thursday.

“We’ve just received reports from district authorities, and the number of deaths in our province now stands at eight,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Of these, two were women and the rest were men.”

“No children were reported killed,” he said.

A village called Ban Muang Yeud in the province’s Xam Neua District was especially hard hit, with all 141 houses in the village damaged or destroyed and more than 800 residents left homeless, the official  said.

Fifteen houses were completely swept away, he said, adding that at least 57 hectares of rice fields are now under water.

“Most of the flood victims have been moved to a community center and are now in urgent need of aid, especially food and drinking water.”

“Some have chosen to go elsewhere to live with relatives,” he said.

Number may climb

Meanwhile, seven are now reported to have died in Luang Prabang province in northern Laos, an official from the province’s Labor and Social Welfare Department told RFA’s Lao Service on Thursday.

“Based on reports from the districts, the number of deaths is now seven,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It was six earlier, and the actual number may still be higher because some districts have not reported to us yet,” he said.

On Aug. 30, a village called Ban Phouxang in the province’s Xieng Ngeum district was destroyed by a landslide that trapped three members of a family following a heavy rainfall, the official said, adding that one body was later recovered, with two other family members still missing.

“The flood is causing a lot of damage to residents’ houses and farmlands, and many houses have been damaged by landslides,” he said.

Also in Luang Prabang, a village of 41 households was hit and flattened by a landslide and flood on Sept. 5, a local official said.

“Thirteen of these houses were completely swept away,” he said.

“Fortunately, no deaths or injuries have been reported, and all residents are now living in a school and the village headquarters offices,” the official said, adding that three roads connecting 17 villages in the district have now been cut off by flash floods.

Concern over dams

Lao villagers living downstream from major dams have meanwhile voiced concern that heavy rains may breach containment walls or break the dams themselves, repeating a July 23 disaster in Attapeu province’s Sanamxay district that left 40 confirmed dead and drove thousands from their homes.

“We are worried and afraid,” a villager living below the Nam Theun 2 dam in Khammouane province’s Nakai district told RFA on Sept. 5. “When it rains, we move to higher ground like a hill or a mountain far away from the river.”

The Lao government hopes that its dams will help the country become the “battery of Southeast Asia” and turn it from being one of the region’s poorest nations into a middle-income country through sales of most of the hydroelectricity they produce to Thailand, Vietnam, and China.

Laos plans to eventually have about 140 dams with roughly 30 percent of them already completed, though many of these are located on tributaries of the Mekong rather than its main stream.

Environmental NGOs want the Lao government to halt dam construction along waterways in the country, warning that existing hydropower projects are already having detrimental effects on the environment and on people’s livelihoods.

They also fear that safety inspections by Lao officials will not be transparent.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.