Reporters take a speedboat ride, but not for pleasure

Normally, a ride in a speedboat would be an attractive proposition, but that was not the case last month when 11 journalists needed to get from one town to another in flood-hit Attapeu province.
With the roads in the area impassable, a journey on the Xekong River was the only way to reach Sanamxay district, where media were keen to follow developments in the wake of a massive flood caused by a burst dam.
This was the third group of Lao journalists to visit the flood-stricken area, with reporters travelling from Vientiane each week to get first-hand news to keep the public informed. At present, the fifth group of journalists is monitoring all aspects of the situation there, in very difficult conditions.
When a minibus took the third team of reporters to Attapeu on August 14, the Xekong River had already overflowed and was close to flooding the streets of central Samakhixay district.

A media team waits to board a speedboat on the Xekong River in Samakhixay district, Attapeu province, to get to Sanamxay district.

Unable to proceed any further by road, the group spent two nights in a guesthouse in Samakhixay, about 30km from their destination of Sanamxay, which was already inundated due to the burst dam.
With rain falling and water levels rising all around, the army’s helicopters were unable to fly, and travel everywhere was disrupted.
Deputy Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr Savankhone Razmountry, was among those travelling to Attapeu on this occasion. He was headed for the press centre in Sanamxay district to discuss the relief and recovery effort with reporters.
However, the venue for this meeting had to be changed to Samakhixay when it became clear that it was both impossible and inadvisable to travel any further by road.
After the meeting, the deputy minister wisely returned to Vientiane but, not to be deterred, the reporters were determined to find a way to get to Sanamxay as quickly as possible. It became clear that travel by river was the only option and they hired some boats to take them.
Some of the group joked that while many people had fled flood-hit Sanamxay, they were going to great lengths to get there.
As torrential rain unleashed by tropical storm Bebinca descended on the area, water levels rose again and came perilously close to the urban centres of Sanamxay and Samakhixay districts.
Eventually the intrepid group of reporters and local media officials set out on four boats, as the rain continued to fall.
One of the party, Director of the provincial Information, Culture and Tourism Department, Mrs Bounnan Bounnaseng, complained that there weren’t enough life jackets for everyone.
“What’s happened is that people wore them before and then took them. They have all been sold in markets around the province,” she said.
The lucky few in our group who were wearing jackets did not say much and were fairly contented during the speedboat ride, but those without life jackets were clearly unhappy.
Some locals were envious when they heard that media personnel were going to Sanamxay by speedboat. They said they had grown up in the area but had never taken such a ride.
The very unpleasant boat trip lasted two hours. Other kinds of boats would have covered the distance in about three hours, while travel by road would entail a journey of about an hour and 15 minutes.
But the objective was achieved, everyone survived, and the reporters were able to get a truly first-hand experience of the conditions in the area – whether they wanted it or not.

By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
(Latest Update September 1, 2018)

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