"Central Vientiane on high alert for flooding
Vientiane authorities were scrambling to flood-proof the city centre yesterday, attempting to increase protective measures in case the Mekong River level rises to 15 metres.
Measures already in place were designed to protect Vientiane if the river rose to 14m. But these precautions were boosted yesterday in response to forecasts from the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology, which predict the Mekong River will rise to 14.2m tomorrow.
The Vientiane Flooding and Drought Prevention Committee's Secretariat Head, Vilasack Nammounty, said technical staff were discussing preventive measures, including the use of electrical poles or wooden stilts to help support walls of sandbags. It is hoped reinforcing the walls will prevent sandbags from being swept away if floodwaters rise further.
Mr Vilasack said the committee also increased the number of sandbags which had been distributed in the city from 400,000 to two million. These were made with 50,000 cubic metres of soil and 70,000 cubic metres of sand.
“Whatever happens, we have to protect Vientiane from the overflowing water,” he said.
People from all government sectors have been working around the clock for the past three days to prevent Vientiane from being inundated with water. These sectors include the national defence and public security ministries, Vientiane authorities, district authorities and residents.
About 7,000 government officials and villagers are assisting the flood effort.
Medical staff members of all districts in the Vientiane are working to prevent any health problems that may be caused by the flooding, and police officers have helped by blocking roads where work is taking place.
The Mekong River was at 13.26m yesterday morning at 7am, and is expected to reach 13.87m today, before it is predicting to begin dropping on August 16. The flood danger line in Vientiane is 12.5m.
These levels are higher than they were when Vientiane suffered severe flooding in 1966. In that year the river level was just over 12m, according to the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology's Director General Pheng Piangpanya.
“At that time, we didn't have preventive measures as good as those we have today, and the embankment was not up to standard,” he said.
The Department of Meteorology and Hydrology has warned people in southern provinces to be aware of the flood risk, because rain is forecasted to continue in northern and central provinces . This will increase the Mekong River level, particularly from Vientiane down to Pakxe district in Champassak province.
Many villages in Vientiane have been cut off from the rest of the city, including Hai village in Pakngum district.
The National Committee for Flooding and Drought Prevention held a meeting in Vientiane yesterday afternoon to raise money for the flood effort.
The meeting was presided over by committee Chairman Somsavat Lengsavad, and was attended by private and state sectors and international organisations.
By Souksakhone Vaenkeo
(Latest Update August 14, 2008) "
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