Myanmar dam overflow displaces thousands

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Residents negotiate a flooded road after waters breached the Swar Chaung dam

A major effort was under way to reach thousands of people trapped in their homes after a dam swollen by monsoon rain overflowed early Wednesday in central Myanmar, officials said.

A surge of water inundated the rural flatland in Bago region after the Swar Chaung dam spillway, which regulates the release of water, collapsed due to heavy seasonal rain.

AFP reporters travelling with a rescue boat described how some people waded out through chest-deep water to get to higher ground while others crammed onto trucks and tractors to reach safety.

Many others remained trapped in their half-submerged homes as soldiers, police, firefighters and volunteers worked into the night to try to ferry residents out.

Khin Myint, 45, told AFP of the terrifying moment when the wave of water hit.

"The water came so fast into our village and we didn’t have time to run," she said, adding that she and her family were unable to escape from the upstairs of their house because her elderly father was sick.

No casualties have yet been reported but more than 12,600 people have taken shelter in about 30 temporary camps, Ministry of Social Welfare director Phyu Lae Lae Tun said.

"There are more than 14,000 households and some 63,000 people affected by the waters," she said.

The torrent also fractured part of a bridge on the Yangon-Mandalay highway linking Myanmar's two biggest cities.

Deputy Minister for Construction Kyaw Linn told reporters the bridge's supporting towers were sinking.

"We will get divers to go down and check after the water levels recede," he said.

Army chief Min Aung Hlaing, under mounting international pressure to face international justice following a damning UN report this week on the Rohingya crisis, was quick to arrive at the scene on Wednesday morning.

"We have to work together," he said. "The spillway will not be able to be controlled until the water flow stops."

The deluge comes just weeks after heavy monsoon rains pummelled Myanmar, causing widespread flash floods that forced some 150,000 people to flee their homes.

Southeast Asia's annual monsoon season runs from around June to November.

Regional neighbour Laos was hit badly last month when heavy rainfall caused the collapse of a dam. At least 35 people were killed, scores went missing and thousands more languished in shelters.

The communist country has since suspended its hydropower strategy to become the "battery of Asia" by damming rivers and selling electricity to its neighbours.