More than 500 homes were flooded in Kampot province’s Toek Chhou district on Wednesday morning after the gates of the Kamchay Hydropower Dam were opened, according to officials, with the chiefs of two of three affected communes saying they were given little or no advance warning.
Provincial governor Khoy Khun Hour said heavy rain had filled the Chinese-operated dam’s reservoir and that authorities temporarily opened three of its five sluice gates on Tuesday night before opening all of them at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
“In the past few days, the rain has caused the Kamchay dam [reservoir] to fill beyond its limit. They decided to open the sluice gates to allow the water to flow quickly,” he said. “They had to do it.”
Mr. Khun Hour said the water forced 571 families to leave their homes in three communes along the Kampot River on Wednesday morning, but that most had returned by the afternoon and were now “living normally.”
The governor said there were no reported deaths or injuries and rejected claims that some of the affected families were given limited warning that their villages would be flooded, explaining that he had ordered officials to pass the message down the line.
“We announced that we would open the sluice gates,” he said. “Would we not think before doing something?”
Seng Chhay, chief of Mak Brang commune, said he was informed about the coming water at 7:30 a.m., just 30 minutes before the floodgates were opened.
Khon Somaly, chief of Kompong Kreng commune, the closest of the three communes to the dam, said she received no advance notice from officials, and first realized what was happening when workers at the dam sounded a siren, giving her only half an hour to prepare residents of her commune.
“I heard the Chinese sound the siren three times, though some families could not relocate immediately,” she said.
“I didn’t hear any announcement” from other officials, she added, estimating that about 1,000 families were forced from their homes in total.
Sao Meng, chief of Prey Khmum commune about 10 km downstream from the dam—the furthest of the three communes—said he received no warning at all, and that between 20 and 30 homes were flooded in the area.
“The flood waters are still high,” he said at about 4 p.m. “I don’t know what the system is with opening the sluice gates and we knew nothing. In the past week, there was no announcement from higher officials.”
According to Rim Deli, who owns a guesthouse on the river in Kampot, a number of similar businesses were flooded, with the water lapping up at the bar at one. He said he received warning shortly before the deluge.
“The governor told us to live carefully and keep our eyes on the river,” he said.
Pov Mony, 72, a retired soldier from Mak Brang commune, said the water had caught him by surprise, and that he had left his flooded home to stay with relatives in Kampot City.
“When I was on my farmland, someone called and told me that the flood went through my house, about 2 meters of water,” he said.
“If the Chinese are going to open the gates, I wonder if they should inform villagers so they might have time to prepare their belongings.”
(Additional reporting by Matt Blomberg)