In a briefing, the president also ordered the team to check the health conditions of South Korean employees working at the site, for families in Korea.
The hydroelectric dam in Laos that collapsed Wednesday was built by SK Engineering and Construction, the building arm under SK Group. There are some 40 South Korean workers in Laos for the dam construction project.
|Towns are seen waterlogged in the southern province of Attapeu, Laos. (Yonhap)|
The dam collapse has forced 7,000 people to flee their homes as of Wednesday. The Laos government designated the area a disaster zone Tuesday. Over hundreds are missing and an unknown number are feared dead, according to local authorities.
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.
SK E&C has been conducting the rescue operation with the Laotian government, dispatching rescue operators, helicopters, boats, medical equipment and relief goods. The South Korean Embassy in the capital city of Vientiane also formed an emergency task force to support the rescue operation.
Executives of SK E&C including President Ahn Jae-hyun were also dispatched to the site, the company said.
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 the dam collapse, unusually heavy rain in the area might have caused water to overflow from the dam, SK E&C said in a statement.
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 are 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, shares of major shareholders of SK E&C sharply dropped Wednesday. SK E&C’s biggest shareholder SK Holdings slipped 6.2 percent, while No. 2 SK Discovery fell 10 percent.