Unbearable grief grips landslide survivors in central Vietnam

By Hoang Phuong, Dac Thanh   October 30, 2020 | 04:06 pm PT
A mother hurriedly burying a child and rushing another to the hospital was one of the heartbreaking scenes witnessed in Quang Nam Province.

When the landslide happened on October 28, Tran Thi Phi Yen was sheltering from Storm Molave in the commune secretary’s house with four children.

On hearing a booming sound, they rushed out and were immediately drowned by the water and mud. Three of Yen’s children were missing and one had his leg broken.

The next morning, one child was found dead. The distraught mother buried one and quickly carried another child to the national highway, where ambulances were waiting.

Grieving survivors of the landslide have tales of horror to narrate.

Tran Thi Phi Yen carried her wounded son to the national highway, after burying one of her children on the morning of October 29, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

Tran Thi Phi Yen carries her wounded son to the national highway, after burying one of her children on the morning of October 29, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

Yen is one of 33 people who survived the landslide in Quang Nam’s Ong De neighborhood, Tra Leng Commune, Nam Tra My District.

Of 53 people buried, eight are confirmed dead and 12 still missing. Rescue efforts are ongoing despite difficulties to access the site. Hundreds of soldiers and police officers have been dispatched for the search and rescue operation.

Before Storm Molave, which triggered the landslide, hit central Vietnam, 14 households had sheltered in the most solid houses in the neighborhood, which were those of Nguyen Thanh Son and Le Hoang Viet, the commune’s secretary.

When the storm hit with heavy rain and strong winds, no one ventured out.

At around noon on October 28, Son heard some small booming sounds from the ground and thought it was "rolling thunder, not a landslide."

Three hours later, when the strong winds had stopped blowing, some men rushed out to collect some rocks to prevent the water from flowing into their houses. Some people used their cell phones to record the scene of water rushing down from the mountain.

As Son looked at the Pa Ranh Mountains, several hundred meters from his place, he saw the moving trees, rocks and soil.

"Run, run," he screamed.

"It was like a massive wave, hitting our houses and shoving things away until they stopped at the mountain base," Son recalled.

Soil and rocks after the landslide at Tra Leng Commune. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

Soil and rocks brought down by the landslide at Tra Leng Commune. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

He does not remember what happened next. Later, he regained consciousness at a spot around 30 meters away, feeling dizzy. He crawled to his feet and saw the arm of a woman sticking out of layers of mud and waving. He pulled out and asked her to raise her voice if she saw anyone else and moved on to try and save others.

But he could not see his wife. The next morning, they found her body under several meters of mud.

Not too far from where the landslide buried Son’s wife, Ho Van Kim, another villager, knew something was wrong when he heard the repeated booming sounds. As he walked towards where it was coming from, he also heard screams. He immediately told his wife and children to leave their house and find some shelter.

At that time, many people were trying to save others by digging the soil and rocks on the ground.

"We left the dead on the ground and covered them with a piece of cloth. We had to look for the living first," said Kim, his shirt covered in the blood of others.

From the afternoon of October 28 to early morning the next day, Kim and other men used hammocks and tree branches to carry three people from the landslide spot to the Tra Leng commune’s clinic, 15 kilometers away. It took them three hours, having to navigate past dozens of landslide spots. Those walking in the front used knives to cut fallen trees and open a way for those behind them.

Around 50 kilometers from the village, more than 200 soldiers and police officers also cut trees and tried to move through landslide spots to reach Tra Leng. The local Bac Tra Mi clinic prepared ambulances and beds to receive new patients.

At 2.30 p.m. on October 29, Kim’s group reached the national highway 40B and saw soldiers making their way to the village. He was relieved.

The Ong De neighborhood was formed 20 years ago and many of its residents are relatives.

"Among those missing, six are my siblings," said Ho Van De, a villager. Two days before the disaster, he had gone to their farm with his wife and stayed in the hut there. On Thursday, when they returned, tons of rocks and soil had buried their neighborhood, including their son.

Ho Thi Hoa has her parents, sister, son and relatives buried by the landslide. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

Ho Thi Hoa has lost her parents, sister and son to the landslide. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

Ho Thi Hoa, 20, has lost several relatives including her parents, sister and son. The resident of Tam Ky Town in Quang Nam rushed home immediately after learning about the landslide. But there was no house left.

She passed out on seeing her villagers take out dead bodies from under the rubble.

Around two kilometers from the Ong De neighborhood, the landslide also killed Ho Thi Ha’s 56-year-old father. Before the storm hit, she had sent her two daughters to her parents’ house, thinking the house, which had survived many storms, was solid.

On hearing the booming sound from somewhere near the house, Ha, around a 20-minute drive away, rushed across muddy and damaged roads to reach the scene. The house had collapsed, her father died and her children were wounded.

"I have never experienced such a horrible moment in my life," Ha said, her voice faltering amidst the sound of wind, water, and cries of those who’d lost their loved ones.

The survivors were taken to a house to rest. During the night, the mother could not sleep. She kept her eyes on her children, fearful that another landslide could happen.

Shaking her head as her mind went to the moment she saw her the neighborhood where 14 families once lived completely destroyed, she said: "I do not want to recall it, but it obsesses me."

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