What’s Left in Laos After a Dam Collapsed | The Dispatch

Just last week, this land
was filled with villages, rice paddies and farms. Now, this is what’s left. Debris, livestock and
somewhere hundreds of people stranded, missing or dead. This is Laos, a
single-party communist country that is one
of the poorest in Asia. On Monday, part of
a hydroelectric dam that was still under
construction collapsed. Water flooded the villages,
killing at least dozens and forcing thousands to flee. The journey here was
rough, with constant rain and backbreaking roads. Challenging, especially
for rescue workers. We arrived in the tiny town
of Khom Kong, where only hours earlier the
water levels had been up to the roofs. Villagers and soldiers trudged
through knee-high mud, at times not sure what
they were looking for. Lim Thong had spent
the past few nights sleeping on the roof
of his family’s shop. He and his wife
Wan Pheng were digging through the debris
to salvage what they could. Laotian Army rescue teams
are still searching in patrol. Four days on, they say they’re
more likely to find bodies than survivors. A few hours away, survivors
gathered at a school for shelter. Earlier this week, the Laos
government said 27 had died and 131 are still missing. But experts say these numbers
are suspiciously low, and the reality here
may be a lot worse. The failure of
the dam, which was part of a billion-dollar
project meant to boost the
country’s economy, raises many questions. Who’s to blame
for the collapse? And why weren’t these
towns evacuated faster? But as the rains
continue to come, and rescue teams still
search for the missing, villagers can only
wait for the waters to lower and hope
that they’ll still have a home to return to.

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