Hundreds of families in Battambang province have been evacuated as authorities ordered a section of a dam to be cut away to release pressure on a reservoir that was threatening to burst and engulf the communities beneath it, as heavy rain continues to cause havoc in the country’s western provinces.
Chhim Vachira, director of Battambang’s department of agriculture, said that the three existing floodgates had been opened in the 2-km long, 19-km wide Kamping Puoy Bassin dam, which was built as part of an irrigation project by the Khmer Rouge, but they were not funneling water out of the reservoir quickly enough.
“The Kamping Puoy Bassin, which can store about 110,000,000 meters cubed of water, was dangerously full so the minister of water resources and meteorology, Lim Kean Hor, gave the order to provincial authorities to cut the dam to release more water,” he said.
Dramatic photographs posted Wednesday on Facebook claimed to show the torrent of water released from the reservoir as it cascaded down the hillside, smashing through trees and houses in its path, but Mr. Vachira said that people living in the path of the floodwater—more than 700 families—had all been evacuated prior to the bank being cut away.
“After the authorities cut through a 30-meter hole in one of the banks, the hole became bigger and bigger by the pressure of the water, so a lot of water flowed out—however authorities had already evacuated those areas,” he said.
Long Phalkun, director of Battambang’s department of water resources and meteorology, said it would have been catastrophic not to act and to risk greater damage to the dam and surrounding areas.
“It is a very big dam so it would have been a disaster and many, many people would have died—that is why we needed to do it,” he said.
Today, joint assessment teams made up of U.N. agencies, local and international NGOs and the National Committee for Disaster Management will head to the provinces worst affected by flooding in the past week, according to Caroline McCausland, country director of Action Aid, one of the NGOs providing flood relief.
“Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Pursat, Siem Reap and Svay Rieng are all essentially the areas suffering the worst flooding now, and multiple teams will look at all the areas affected, including the dam areas, which will give a good indication of the whole of each province,” she said, adding that due to the weather, it was hard to predict if the floods would improve in the coming days.