MANDALAY — A senior member of Mandalay City Development Committee (MCDC) says that a Chinese construction company will take responsibility after an embankment along the Irrawaddy River near one of its project sites collapsed on Sunday, forcing more than 12,000 residents to leave their homes.
The embankment collapsed just 15 meters from the Shwe Ge flood gate and sewage pumping station in Mandalay’s Amarapura Township, a construction project by Chinese construction companies China Energy Engineering Group and CNOOD.
The site is part of the Mandalay Urban Services Improvement Project, funded by a US$5.56 million loan from the Asian Development Bank and French Development Agency.
The Chinese companies are discussing with the authorities about how to take responsibility for the incident as stipulated under the project contract, according to the Mandalay City Development Committee (MCDC), the body overseeing the project.
Critics have blamed the construction companies and the MCDC for damaging the embankment and causing the collapse.
Construction on the project began in July 2018 but has been delayed during the monsoon season due to heavy rain and rising river levels. The pumping station is in Nankad Lake to the east of the embankment.
On Sunday night, water from the swelling Irrawaddy leaked through a hole near the pipelines of the Shwe Ge pumping station, causing a flood that destroyed the road along the embankment and affected lowland areas.
The MCDC said the collapse occurred because of a weakness in the embankment and because of excavation work below it.
“The embankment in this area is weak. Excavation in Nankad Lake by the pumping pipeline project has further weakened the embankment,” said U Kyaw San Myint of the MCDC. “As the river swelled due to heavy rain, the water level on the west side of the embankment became higher than on the opposite side. The water started leaking through the weak soil and the embankment could not hold for long.”
The MCDC said the incident needed further investigation and blaming one party is not the solution.
“These are just the preliminary findings. Since the damaged area is about 15 meters from the project site, we cannot only blame the company and we need further investigations,” said U Kyaw San Myint.
“Although this project is a part of the MCDC, there have been other factors stopping the project from being finished on time. COVID19, for example, forced experts to leave the country,” he added.
Attempts to block the water at the collapsed embankment were successful and some of the damages were fixed.
The authorities are trying to reinforce the embankment and reconstruct the adjacent road connecting Mandalay and Sagaing.
“There has been heavy rain and the Irrawaddy is about to reach its danger level, so we are trying to speed up the reinforcement process. We stopped the water and we are now pumping out the flooded areas,” said Vice Mayor U Ye Mon.
More than 12,000 Amarapura residents are being relocated to monasteries. Rescue teams and social volunteer groups are helping with relocation, transport, food, water and health care.
“We are sorry for any inconvenience. We will try to finish the work within a few weeks. However, the road will be closed until reinforcements of the embankment are finished and the construction of the pumping stations will be stalled until the floodwater goes down,” the vice mayor added.