Hanoians on life in a flood-prone village

By Pham Nga   October 24, 2021 | 04:07 am PT
Residents in Bui Xa Village, Chuong My District, share how they withstand and minimize the effects of heavy downpours in a flood-risk environment.

It was still raining heavily in Bui Xa Village at noon on Oct. 18.

After her trip to the market, Nguyen Thi Thanh and her daughter-in-law parked their motorbike at a lot in the middle of the village, put on their boots and waded home more than 500 meters away.

The floodwater level rose higher and higher, reaching Thanh's knees, as she moved further into the village.

Since she's a food seller at the local traditional market, Thanh has to get up before 2 a.m. daily to receive goods from merchants. On rainy days, fearing trouble when wading through flooded roads at night, she would stay and sleep at her second son's house near the entrance of the village and return home at noon the next day.

Thanh's home and about 100 households in Bui Xa Village of Chuong My District are situated near Bui River.

The right side of the river is defined as a flood-prone area since it helps divert floodwater from Red River and Day River to protect central Hanoi. As a result, Chuong My is flooded every year.

Due to the cold air triggering heavy rains and floods in central Vietnam, Hanoi and northern Hoa Binh Province witnessed massive downpours since Oct. 16.

The heavy rain and upstream water flow from Hoa Binh have caused the water level of Bui River to rise. Some rural transport routes in the communes of Chuong My District were also flooded and more than 190 houses submerged 0.3-1.2 meters.

The main alley leading to Bui Xa Village is flooded on Oct. 18, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga

The main alley leading to Bui Xa Village is flooded on Oct. 18, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga

The main alley leading to Bui Xa saw floodwaters reach 0.5 meters, entering low-lying yards and houses situated by the riverside.

The rising water level has upended the daily life of people in Bui Xa.

When she saw floodwaters entering her yard while having lunch, Thanh quickly called her husband and children to take their clothes out of the wardrobe and put them somewhere higher, bringing their two big dogs and some puppies inside the family's two-story house.

"Our family has to let the dogs urinate and defecate on the floor and clean up afterward since there is no other way," she said.

After luring in the dogs, the pigsty was flooded and caused the pregnant sow to squeal. So Thanh and her husband put on conical hats to lure them to higher ground, taking a piece of corrugated iron to cover them temporarily.

Her son carried out the aluminum boat in the warehouse and tied it in front of the house just in case. Around noon, the floodwaters had already reached a bit over Thanh's heels.

"This year the water rose slowly," she said. "Back in 2018, I took a little nap but when I opened my eyes the water already reached as high as the bed. At the time, soldiers had to come in to help me clean up and my whole family moved into the house of my second son."

Nguyen Dinh Hoa, chairman of Chuong My District, said the government has directed commune to coordinate with local military units to prepare means of evacuating people when the water rises to a dangerous level.

The flood scene at Nguyen Thi Toi's house is no different from Thanh's house.

The 45-year-old woman and her husband carried two wardrobes and an old refrigerator to the upper floor. At noon on Oct. 18, when the floodwater receded in other areas in the village, her kitchen was still inundated.

"During the dry season, I can still grow some crops on the field. But I can't do so during the rainy season," said Tam, her husband, pointing at the flooded papaya tree in front of his house.

According to the latest report on Chuong My District, nearly 300 hectares of winter crops in the district were completely or partially flooded.

But according to Tam, the heavy rain in 2018 was much worse. That year, when he had just finished harvesting rice, the village received heavy downpours, with floodwater reaching up to his back. The couple carried each bag of soaked rice on their boat, pushing it to a few houses near the entrance of the village to dry temporarily.

Standing in the middle of the flooded road leading to her house, Hoang Thi Sim, 63, was trying to remove dirt and cement with a bucket normally used to store rainwater.

Her house is under construction, and its water system has not yet been installed. "Every day, I go to my neighbors to ask them for some clean water for daily usage. But I can't visit them since it is hard to bring the clean water back along the flooded road," she said.

Saving clean water is the first solution for people in Bui Xa to adapt to flooding.

Sim said she had purchased a bottle of itching medicine.

"I put it on every night, but my feet are still sore," she said, showing her white foot, affected from being submerged in water for a long time.

Living in a flood-prone area, Bui Xa villagers have actively found solutions to adapt to living conditions. For example, residents always build houses 0.5 to 1 meter higher than the road surface. Most households have a boat ready to use when needed.

Every time the water rises, the commune loudspeakers of Bui Xa start to remind people to pack their belongings in case of severe floods, and to evacuate children and the elderly from heavily flooded areas.

In September 2020, officials of Chuong My District said to ensure that people do not have to suffer from flooding, the best option is to migrate residents out of the flood-prone area.

Chuong My District has proposed that Hanoi prioritizes strengthening and upgrading the Bui River dike system.

During this flood, Thanh's two grandchildren and dozens of young kids in the area were pushed by their parents on a boat to a relative's house to stay temporarily. Her neighbors had to evacuate the whole family to another place, to wait until the flood recedes.

People wade through a flooded area in Bui Xa Village. Photo by VnExpress/Ha Huy Dat

People wade through a flooded area in Bui Xa Village. Photo by VnExpress/Ha Huy Dat

To avoid the situation of rice being soaked in rainwater, Toi and her husband finished harvesting and transported their crop directly to their grandmother's house, located more than a kilometer away. They only plant rice once a year and harvest it by June just before the annual flooding season begins, which usually comes in late July or early August and remains until November or even after.

Most locals have simply accepted living with floods.

Toi only wishes to be healthy, and have money to build a house higher than the usual floodwater level. Meanwhile, Thanh said that many acquaintances who saw her wading through water twice a day to the market advised her to sell her house and move to another place.

She said she doesn't plan to relocate. "I have to adapt to where I live."

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