Myanmar Dam Breach Kills One, Displaces More Than 63,000

The collapse of the Swar dam spillway in Bago region floods about 60 villages, forcing residents to seek shelter in monasteries and temporary camps.

Residents negotiate a flooded road after rampaging waters from the Swar dam spillway submerged villages in central Myanmar's Bago region, Aug. 29, 2018.

The collapse of a spillway of a dam in central Myanmar’s Bago region early Wednesday caused flooding that killed one woman and left six others missing as it submerged roughly 60 villages and affected more than 63,400 people, a regional lawmaker said.

Those displaced by the breaching of the spillway of the Swar dam in Swar township have moved to other parts of Yedashe and Taungoo townships where they are staying in monasteries or temporary camps after their houses were partly or completely inundated with water.

“It wasn’t the dam that broke; it was the spillway that regulates the release of water from the levee that broke at around 4:20 a.m. due to heavy seasonal rainfall,” regional lawmaker Kyaw Kyaw told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Spillways, or overflow channels, allow for the controlled release of water flows from a dam or levee into a downstream area to ensure that the water does not overflow and damage or destroy the dam.

“Swar town was submerged at around 10 a.m., and six people were swept away by the waters while they crossed a road,” Kyaw Kyaw said. “No one could save them. One woman died in the evening.”

“Authorities didn’t issue a warning about the possibility of danger from the dam, and people had to run away when [the flooding] occurred,” he said. “We have to discuss this in parliament and question why it occurred and why they didn’t warn people about it.”

Meanwhile, engineers say they can control the water but that Yedashe township may be submerged if more heavy rainfall occurs over the next few days.

“If the water flows into Sittaung River, it will be OK, but if not, the downstream areas of Taungoo, Shwegyin, and Madauk will be in danger of being submerged,” Kyaw Kyaw said.

A bridge along the Yangon-Mandalay highway is damaged by raging floodwater in the Swar River in central Myanmar's Bago region, Aug. 29, 2018. Credit: RFA
Bridge damage on main highway

The Yangon-Mandalay and Yangon-Naypyidaw highways were closed because of high water levels, the Ministry of Construction announced.

Surging floodwater swelled the Swar River beneath an elevated section of the Yangon-Mandalay highway, a major thoroughfare in Myanmar, causing the lanes for southbound vehicles to buckle and bringing traffic in both directions to a standstill.

Authorities cordoned off the damaged section, though pedestrians were allowed to cross the span of the other lane on foot.

“Because of the flooding from the Swar dam, one side of the Swar River bridge has dropped by about two feet,” Kyaw Lin, deputy minister of construction, told RFA.

“We had to close the Yangon-Mandalay highway for about four hours,” he said. “We allowed small cars to pass over the bridge at around 11 a.m., and buses were allowed to pass over it at around 3 p.m.”

On Thursday, divers will check the bridge’s support pillars, which are sinking, and the ministry will perform necessary repairs, he said.

Some bus service from the capital Naypyidaw to Mandalay has resumed, said Aye Zin, chairman of the Myat Mandalar Tun bus station.

“We’re refunding tickets for passengers who don’t want to travel on this road, and we’re rescheduling them on other buses if they still want to go,” he said.

“We had to cancel the 7 a.m. bus because the Yangon-Mandalay highway was closed until this afternoon, but we had two buses to go to Mandalay via the Pyi-Mandalay highway after the passengers agreed to travel by this road,” he said.

Myanmar’s military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Vice President Henry Van Thio, Minister for Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement Win Myat Aye, and a Bago regional government team were in the affected areas to survey the damage and help those displaced by the flooding.

When inspecting the damage to the bridge on the Yangon-Mandalay highway, Min Aung Hlaing said, “We cannot control the spillway until the water has gone down.”

Annual monsoon rains drench Myanmar and other parts of Southeast Asia during the wet season from June through October. Laos and Vietnam have also suffered dam breaches and fatal floods during the 2018 rainy season.

Deadly flooding caused by downpours in eight Myanmar states and regions have now killed more than 17 people and displaced roughly 213,000 others since July, including those affected by Wednesday’s flooding in Bago region.

Reported by Zarni Htun and Kyaw Zaw Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.