Quang Nam school students lose families to landslide, face uncertain future

By Hoang Phuong   October 31, 2020 | 05:00 am PT
Le Thanh Tu’s father called him and told him to stay in school since Storm Molave was approaching. He was not to know that would be his last call.

Two days after the landslide at a neighborhood in Tra Leng Commune in Quang Nam’s Nam Tra My District on October 28, Tu and five other students at the district ethnic minority boarding school traveled 35 km to go home, which had been buried in a landslide.

Four of them lost family members in the landslide while the other two, who live in a nearby village, lost their houses.

Of 53 people buried, eight are confirmed dead and 12 are still missing. Hundreds of soldiers and police officers are involved in rescue efforts despite the difficulty in reaching the site.

Le Thanh Tu (L) could not stop crying on his teachers shoulder. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hue.

Le Thanh Tu, who lost his family to a landslide in Quang Nam Province, sobs on his teacher's sympathetic shoulders. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hue.

Tu, an 11th grader, was one of the four to lose loved ones. Covered in mud and standing in front of where his house once existed, he is unable to hide his shock and tears stream down his face.

Fourteen families had lived in Ong De neighborhood, named after the oldest man in the area, De, Tu’s grandfather, for the last 40 years.

But rocks, soil and mud have destroyed all the houses, and hundreds of people have been working around the clock to find those buried underneath, including Tu’s father, Le Quang Viet. The rescuers’ machines are roaring.

On the morning of October 28, a few days before Molave hit central Vietnam, Viet had called Tu.

"He told me they were all safe at home. Who knew...?" the 17-year-old cannot finish his sentence and bursts into tears on his teacher’s shoulder.

Several hours after the call, the landslide occurred. But it was only a day later that Tu knew about it after seeing the news on TV. He made dozens of calls to his father, but no one picked up the phone.

He asked his teachers to let him go home, but it was too dangerous to travel since there were many spots prone to landslides in Quang Nam. Then, a day later, on October 30, they decided to let him go but with teachers.

Tu’s brother, who lives in Saigon, is returning home.

Ho Van Hai lost eight relatives to the landslide. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

Ho Van Hai lost eight relatives in a landslide. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

Ho Van Hai, who is a year younger than Tu, has lost eight relatives, including his parents, brothers, brother-in-law, and uncles.

Rescuers found his father’s body on the afternoon of October 30 and buried him several meters away from the site of the landslide. The grave, which is around 30 cm high and fenced by three pieces of wood to keep passersby from stepping on it, was dug in a rush.

Hai would visit home once every few months from school. He had visited earlier this month and his mother, worried her son would be cold in the coming winter, had given him some warm clothes.

That day, when Hai had gotten on his friend’s motorbike to return to school, his father, Ho Van Ton, walked him to the door and told him to focus on studying instead of hanging out too much with friends.

Hai did not know that would be the last time he would see his father.

Hai and Tu are close friends. Their childhood memories, of Pa Ranh Mountain and the nearby stream, are filled with happiness.

Hai says: "The water in the stream would be crystal clear and cool. It would turn muddy just for a few days during the flood season."

But now rocks, soil and water from the mountain and stream have taken the lives of their family members.

Standing by the stream, Viet, youth union secretary of the Nam Tra My boarding school, sometimes has to try hard to hide his tears.

"The school knew about the landslide, but at first we concealed it because we were afraid our students would be shocked," Viet says.

Ha Thanh Quoc, director of the Department of Education and Training in Quang Nam, says local authorities will provide succor to students who lost loved ones to the landslide and come up with a long-term plan.

"We will not only help them finish their education, but also provide employment counseling."

Rescuers scramble to find landslide victims in storm-hit central Vietnam.

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