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SK E&C sends helicopters, boats to Laos dam collapse site

The collapse of a hydroelectric dam in Laos that was under construction by SK Engineering & Construction forced over 7,000 people to flee their homes Tuesday. SK E&C said it sent helicopters and boats for the rescue operation, and is investigating whether construction failure or heavy rain was responsible for the flooding. 

People wait for rescue operation after their houses were waterlogged by the collapse of the hydroelectric dam in Laos. (Yonhap)
People wait for rescue operation after their houses were waterlogged by the collapse of the hydroelectric dam in Laos. (Yonhap)

According to SK E&C, damage to one of five dams in the southern province of Attapeu was first discovered Sunday at 9 p.m. The company immediately reported this to the Laotian government and began evacuating people in the rural village near Mekong River.

Although the company urgently began restoration work, heavy rain has hampered access to the road near the dam, making it difficult for workers to approach for restoration, the company said.

On Tuesday morning, the damaged dam released about 4.95 billion cubic meters of water, washing away homes in seven out of 12 rural villages in Attapeu, near the border with Vietnam and Cambodia. 

While the flooding is widely believed to be the result of a dam collapse, unusually heavy rain in the area may have caused water to overflow from the dam, SK E&C said in a statement.

The Laotian authorities designated the area a disaster zone Tuesday. As of Wednesday, over hundreds are missing and an unknown number are feared dead, according to local authorities.

The dam was part of a billion-dollar hydropower project that the Laotian government approved to boost its economic development despite opponents arguing that there were risks to locals and fisheries.

In 2012, South Korea’s SK E&C and Korea Western Power Co. partnered with a local Laotian company and Thailand’s Ratchaburi Electricity to create a joint venture, PNPC. Construction began in November 2013, with an aim for completion in February 2019. 

Meanwhile, SK E&C has been conducting the rescue operation with the Laotian government, dispatching rescue operators, helicopters, boats, medical equipment and relief goods. 

Executives of SK E&C including President Ahn Jae-hyun were also dispatched to the site, the company said.