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Thousands evacuated in Myanmar as dam fails

Updated August 30, 2018

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A major bridge along Yangon to Mandalay highway linking Yangon to capital Naypyidaw is seen damaged by rampaging flood waters from a dam on Wednesday.—AFP
A major bridge along Yangon to Mandalay highway linking Yangon to capital Naypyidaw is seen damaged by rampaging flood waters from a dam on Wednesday.—AFP

Kone Gyi Lan Sone: More than 50,000 people have evacuated their homes in central Myanmar after part of a dam failed on Wednesday, inundating communities and damaging a bridge on a major highway, officials said.

Myanmar fire authorities sent a team to the dam after the breach at 5:30am (2300 GMT) unleashed water into the nearby town of Swar and several other settlements.

“The [spillway] of the dam was broken and flooded the two villages close to the highway,” the fire department said on its Facebook page.

Authorities had given the dam the all-clear after an inspection just days earlier, despite residents’ concerns about overspill, state-run media said.

Many people, including some not directly hit by flooding, had decided to leave their homes for fear the waters could rise further, said an official of the Natural Disaster Management Department who sought anonymity, in the absence of authorisation to speak to media. As many as 14 clusters of hamlets were battling flooding, the department said.

In all, 12,000 households, or a total of 54,000 people, were displaced, said another official, from the Department of Relief and Resettlement, who declined to be named.

A surge of water as high as eight feet (2.4 m) hit the first downstream village of Kyun Taw Su, besides flooding Swar and part of the larger town of Yedashe, said Ko Lwin, a journalist based in Swar.

Pictures on social media showed soldiers using makeshift bamboo rafts and kayaks to evacuate people from flooded homes and shops, some carrying children and the elderly through knee-deep waters.

The waters had begun to subside on Wednesday afternoon but still rushed beneath a damaged bridge along the road linking Myanmar’s major cities of Yangon, Mandalay and the capital Naypyitaw surrounded by acres of flooded fields.

Myanmar’s heavy annual monsoon rains have caused widespread flooding that displaced more than 100,000 people and killed at least 11 in July.

Swar residents had expressed concerns that the dam was overflowing, said Ko Lwin, the journalist.

On Monday, the state-run Myanmar Alin newspaper said an administrator and an irrigation official had inspected the dam. “There is nothing to be concerned about,” it reported the administrator, Tun Nay Aung, as saying, as the dam had not exceeded its capacity.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2018