Banteay Meanchey Dam at Risk of Breaking, Inundating Villages

Hundreds of police and soldiers have been working around the clock since Wednesday to prevent a major dam built during the Khmer Rouge period in Banteay Meanchey province from breaking and flooding as many as eight surrounding villages, officials said Thursday.

Heavy rains, compounded by floodwaters from Thailand and neighboring Oddar Meanchey province have damaged a 150-meter section of the 2-km-long Trapaing Thma dam in Phnom Srok district’s Poy Char commune, putting it at risk of rupturing, said Ouk Keorattanak, a provincial administrator.

“Police, soldiers and residents have tried to place sandbags on the dam,” Mr. Keorattanak said. “We are working constantly to stop the dam from breaking.”

Chan Kosal, deputy provincial police chief, said that roughly 400 police and more than 200 soldiers are assisting in the efforts to contain the water.

Poy Char commune chief Peng Punthara said that if the Trapaing Thma dam breaks, eight villages would be affected.

“If the dam breaks, people in eight villages will have to be evacuated and their crops will be damaged,” Mr. Punthara said, adding that the water in the dam’s central reservoir reached an emergency level about a week ago.

Heng Bunhoa, director of the provincial department of agriculture, said that in an effort to relieve pressure on the compromised section, authorities have opened four of the dam’s sluice gates—despite protests by local residents.

“People living in the area tried to block authorities from opening the gates, but we needed to open them. Otherwise, we cannot control the water level above the dam,” Mr. Bunhoa said, adding that if the dam breaks, 7,000 hectares of rice paddy will be flooded.

Mr. Bunhoa said flooding in Banteay Meanchey over the past three weeks has already destroyed about 30 hectares of rice fields, and affected an additional 17,000 hectares.

The Trapaing Thma dam and reservoir—which irrigates nearby villages, allowing farmers to grow rice two seasons per year—was built using slave labor between 1977 and 1978 and was the largest irrigation project of the Khmer Rouge regime. It is estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 people died while working on the dam.

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