FEATURE: Attapeu’s flood victims begin the long road to normality

ATTAPEU, Laos (Vientiane Times/ANN) - The small towns and villages of Attapeu province’s Sanamxay district, devastated by floods triggered by the collapse of a dam in July, are slowly limping back to normalcy as authorities step up efforts to deliver relief supplies.

From the top of a mountain in Sanamxay, one can see the surrounding villages and paddy fields. But it is still difficult to access the villages because of the widespread damage caused by the floods. Accessing most villages requires trekking for several hours.

Lao People Army’s helicopters fly sorties to Sanamxay every day to deliver aid and relief materials, with flights cancelled only when there is bad weather. The mainstream media has been posted at the press centre in the district office with journalists travelling in the helicopters to some of the flooded villages.

From a helicopter, one sees a picturesque valley with rivers and streams surrounded by mountains. Sanamxay is a poor district, with about 36,000 people living in 40 villages. Thirteen of these villages were affected by the flood and six were severely damaged on July 23, when the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower project saddle dam collapsed.

An army pilot, who did not want to be named, told Vientiane Times the district office in the main town of Sanamxay was surrounded by floodwater.

“When we flew over and looked around, the land was flooded with only the district office not inundated and it was being used as a shelter for homeless people,” he said. The office was also used as a media centre and helicopters landed next to the facility.

Three journalists travelled in one of the helicopters as it went about its now regular mission of transporting food to people in flood-hit villages at the end of last month.

The massive Xekong River could be seen clearly from the air resembling a slow moving snake. The main town of Sanamxay district is located on one bank of the river with rainforest on the other side.

Five roads stretch from the Xekong River to a large rocky mountain, a distance of about one kilometre. Some of the roads are covered with asphalt, and houses are located along both sides, along with schools, temples, and white tents to house the flood victims.

Locals including children greet the helicopter on the ground and help to offload much-needed supplies and equipment.

The local people are largely dependent on rice farming and fishing for their livelihoods. On waking up every morning, the villagers go to the temples to give alms to the monks.

Agricultural authorities are now helping farmers to get back on their feet by supplying rice seeds, advice and other assistance.

Attapeu is the southernmost province in Laos and shares a border with Xekong province in the north, Champassak province in the west, Vietnam in the east and Cambodia in the south.

Waters from the fertile Bolaven Plateau, which is mostly located in Champassak province, drain into Attapeu province to the south where one can find many ethnic groups partaking in local customs such adults including elderly women smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.

Attapeu’s capital Samakkhixay district is situated in a large picturesque valley surrounded by mountains and beside the looping Xekong River.

Attapeu is rugged, very scenic and has a rich history dating back to the Lane Xang Kingdom in the 16th century, as evidenced by the ancient stupa That Xaysetthathirath, which local people believe contains the remains of King Xayasetthathirath.

More recently, the province became known as the “Land of Heroism” for its role in the revolution with remaining evidence of the war mostly concentrated in the province’s east along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The people of Sanamxay district are surely now drawing inspiration from past acts of heroism as they set about rebuilding their lives following the devastating flood in this lush and picturesque part of Laos.

With the assistance of authorities, local folk are now quietly but determinedly returning the community back to normality.