Seafaring fishers turn life savers on land in central Vietnam

By Thanh Lam   October 21, 2020 | 05:00 am PT
Quang Binh fishers are using their seafaring skills to navigate flooded neighborhoods, saving lives and transporting essential supplies to the needy.

Dang Van Tinh, a fisherman, was moving his stuff to the second floor of his house when he heard a cry for help.

The 46-year-old resident of Lien Thuy Commune’s Xuan Hoi Village did not hesitate. He took his boat and headed out.

"Where are you?" Tinh called out as he sailed through the ravaging floodwaters in heavy rain. He did not turn on the boat’s engine, worried he might not able to hear others’ voices.

People in Lien Thuy Commune, Le Thuy District, sit on the roof of the house in the historic flood in October 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Lam.

Residents of Lien Thuy Commune, Le Thuy District, sit on the roof of a house, October 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Lam.

Ten minutes later, he saw an old man holding his grandchild on a raft hiding behind a tree, almost submerged in water. The father was under the water, trying to move the raft.

Tinh got to the raft and took the three people to his house before returning to the spot to save the wife and another child.

But the fisherman was still not done. Just seconds later, he donned his life jacket and left the house, ignoring his wife’s pleas to wait.

"I cannot sit at home and dry my feet," he said, munching some raw instant noodles on his boat.

In the sea of water that Le Thuy District in Quang Binh Province had become, the tiny fishing boat has been a life savior, although the fishermen were risking their lives as well.

But Tinh said he was well aware that there were many not as lucky as he was to have a second floor to move to. Furthermore, he was also lucky that the small boat allowed him to reach places in small alleys that bigger vessels couldn’t.

"Is anyone here?" he yelled as he sailed along. Sometimes, he would hear a voice or spot people waving from the roof of a submerged house.

Between dozens of trips he made, he saw his wife on another boat. Thuy, Tinh’s wife, who had pleaded with him to wait for her, had told her sons to take care of each other, and got on a boat passing by to help those in need.

"Let’s go to Cam Thuy Commune and distribute food there," Thuy said, sitting among hundreds of packages of rice, noodles and milk on the moving boat.

Tinh changed direction and headed to National Highway 1A, which was under a meter of water, virtually isolating the district.

Residents of Le Thuy District sail from household to household, distributing essential supplies to those isolated by flooding. Video by VnExpress/Thanh Lam.

Over the last three to four days, more than 40 fishers have joined Quang Binh authorities in trying to save residents' lives and help them with essential supplies.

On the morning of October 18, residents of Le Thuy were cleaning up their houses as the floodwaters receded after 12 long days. But then it started raining heavily again, triggering more flooding.

Since October 6, central Vietnam has been battered by prolonged heavy rains that have led to historically high flooding, leaving the region deep underwater and many communes isolated.

As of October 20, nearly 95,000 houses in Quang Binh Province were submerged and over 30,000 people had been evacuated to safety, thanks to efforts of the local authorities and residents, many of them fishers.

Yeoman service

Fishers like Tinh and Thuy have not just saved lives directly, but also enabled the work of many charitable organizations by collecting food and other essentials at dry locations and taking them to people languishing in rampaging floodwaters.

Late in the afternoon, as Tinh delivered the last food packages before returning home, many fishers were still busy sailing through the floodwaters in the darkening night.

Fishers in Quang Binh Province distribute food and save people on the morning of October 20, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa,

Fishers in Quang Binh Province help people in distress by distributing food and other supplies on the morning of October 20, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Tran Van Vy, 39, was among them. The diminutive but sturdy man compiled more than ten years of experience fishing in the seas before buying his own boat.

"No wave and wind can beat a small little fish like me," Vy joked.

When Le Thuy District got flooded the first time, Vy’s neighborhood, located by the sea, was not affected. After anchoring his boat for two weeks, he hired a truck to take it to the flooded area, joining dozens of fishers sailing through submerged neighborhoods.

"Our people are in trouble, if we do not go and bad things happen to them, that is our fault. Please go and help them," Vy’s wife told him.

At home, she cooked hundreds of meals with her neighbors and packed them along with milk and water for their husbands to distribute to needy people.

When their husbands said many people do not have enough clothes, they collected that too, and packed them in plastic.

The most unforgettable trip that Vy has made to date was the first one. In the middle of the night, two older adults, one of them paralyzed, waved their arms through the water from their flooded house. Vy jumped out of his boat, swam to the house and gave them life jackets before moving them out through the roof.

"For the first time in history, fishers on the sea are saving those living on land," he said, sharing a cigarette with other fishers under the pouring rain.

Despite his long experience at sea during which he has encountered several storms, Vy is still afraid of this flooding. He said that when he was at sea, there were only men in danger, but in such floods, many children and old people are affected.

At night, the fishers, who use flashlights to see others’ faces, shouted out to ask if anyone was hungry.

As dozens of boats passing by, amid the sound of engines, under layers of raincoats and life jackets, their faces drenched, they showed the thumbs up sign as the flashlight hit their faces. It meant that they were okay, and that was enough.

A colleague sitting next to Vy began singing a song and others joined in.

Sitting in pouring rain after a day of tiring work, their spirits were not dampened. They were ready for more trips the next day

go to top