The bodies of 26 people have been recovered after flash floods caused by a dam breach in southern Laos, according to officials.
At least 131 others are still reported missing, Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday, following the collapse of the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy dam earlier this week.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
The dam, which had been under construction, released some five billion cubic metres of water when it was breached at 8pm local time (13:00 GMT) on Monday.
Subsequent roof-level flood waters have submerged several nearby villages, Thai consular official Chana Miencharoen told AFP news agency on Wednesday.
Thousands left homeless
The disaster left more than 6,600 people homeless, the Lao News Agency reported on Tuesday. It showed pictures of villagers wading through muddy floodwater carrying their belongings. Others boarded rickety wooden boats or stood on the roofs of partially submerged houses.
Landlocked Laos is one of Asia’s poorest countries but aims to become the region’s “battery” by selling power to neighbours through a series of hydropower dams.
Environmental rights groups have for years raised concerns about the country’s hydropower ambitions, including worries over the impact of dams on the Mekong River, its flora and fauna and the rural communities and local economies that depend on it.
‘Major safety risks’
Maureen Harris, an expert on Laotian dams at the International Rivers NGO, said the flooding raised questions about the standard and safety of dams within the country.
“This break shows the major risks from dams being built, and dam designs that are unable to cope with extreme weather events, such as very heavy rains that we’ve seen in the last few days,” Harris told Al Jazeera.
The $1.2bn project planned to export 90 percent of its electricity to energy-hungry Thailand and the remaining amount was to be offered up on the local grid.
The 410-megawatt capacity dam was supposed to start commercial operations by 2019, according to the venture’s website.