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ATTAPEU: The Laotian prime minister said on Wednesday 131 people are still missing two days after a dam collapse swamped several villages in the country’s south, killing at least 26 people.

In a rare televised press conference by the leader of the secretive communist country, Thongloun Sisoulith gave the most specific figure so far for the number unaccounted for.

Earlier official reports spoke of hundreds missing in Attapeu province.

“One hundred and thirty one people have been reported missing,” he said, adding all of them were Lao nationals.

Survivors have questioned why they got little warning of the deluge, which inundated several villages across a vast area with several meters of flood water.

Two South Korean contractors said they had reported damage a day before parts of the Xe-Namnoy dam gave way on Monday and unleashed a wall of water.

Thai consular official Chana Miencharoen, at the scene of the relief effort told AFP that by late afternoon on Wednesday 26 bodies had been recovered.

“Seventeen others are injured and in hospital,” he said, adding roof-level floodwater was hampering rescue efforts in a remote area of the poor and landlocked Southeast Asian country.

Information trickled slowly out of Laos as the publicity-shy country tried to get to grips with thedisaster.

The Vientiane Times reported that 3,000 were in need of rescue as of on Wednesday afternoon, taking shelter in trees and on rooftops.

Footage on Laos television showed people huddled on roofs awaiting rescue as muddy water swirled menacingly just below them, with the army and local volunteers leading the rescue effort.

Questions began to emerge over the collapse, with some of the displaced saying they were warned to leave their homes only hours before disaster struck.

South Korea was sending a relief team to the area, President Moon Jae-in’s spokesman said on Wednesday in Seoul.

“Our government must actively take part in on-site relief efforts without delay as our companies were involved in the construction of the dam,” Moon was quoted as saying.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2018