With death of 22 soldiers, landslide shatters world of their loved ones

By Hoang Phuong, Nguyen Dong   October 20, 2020 | 08:58 pm PT
On her 35th birthday Trieu Thi Phuong Nhung had to travel 250 km to Quang Tri Province to see her husband’s body one last time.

Senior Lieutenant Tran Quoc Dung was among the 22 soldiers from the Defense Economics Division 337 who were killed in the landslide on October 18.

Rescue efforts began the next morning and the 22 bodies were found and taken to Dong Ha Town. At the Dong Ha Town Sports and Competition Center, Nhung and relatives of the 21 others were waiting to see the bodies of their loved ones.

Dung and the others had been serving as disaster rescue personnel in five border communes in Huong Hoa District near the Truong Son Mountain.

Nhung (L) faces a huge loss on her birthday. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Hai.

Nhung’s husband, Senior Lieutenant Tran Quoc Dung was among 22 soldiers killed in a landslide in central Quang Tri Provnce on October 18, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Hai.

Nhung had called him on October 17, telling him to be careful in the heavy rain and go to bed early after a long day at work.

Three hours after that a mountainside collapsed, setting off the landslide that obliterated three buildings in the barracks where Dung and his comrades stayed.

Hearing about the accident, Nhung was in dread but could not reach her husband. She tried to call his colleagues Thu, Tra, Toan, and Tien, but they did not pick up the phone either.

Nhung said through tears: "In the morning I saw the list of victims with all the five names in it. They are all gone now."

October 20 was her 35th birthday. Dung had promised to send her money to buy a gift.

The only photo they took together during their eight years of marriage is the one in their bedroom. This year the glass on the photo broke thrice, and Nhung is now remorseful she did not understand the portent. Dung had promised to take another photo with his wife and two children when he visited home later this year.

Ambulances take soldiers bodies to Dong Ha Multi-purpose Gymnasium on October 19, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

Ambulances bring the bodies of the soldiers killed in a landslide in Quang Tri Province to Dong Ha Town on October 19, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

Now only memories remain.

The time he had lived at home was so little that once his daughter did not recognize him.

"Two years ago she ran away whenever she saw her father and never let him hug her." He had to "bribe" his daughter by allowing her to use his phone and getting her new dresses, she said.

Nguyen Thi Giao Linh, 40, held her five-year-old daughter and sobbed. Her husband, Major Pham Ngoc Quyet, was among the 22 killed.

"Water will enter our parents’ house because it is raining here and the hydroelectricity dam will release water" was Quyet’s last message before his demise.

He had also told Linh to stow away her stuff on higher ground and warn their children to be careful when going out in the floodwaters.

The morning after the tragedy Linh repeatedly tried to call him after hearing the news, but Quyet did not pick up the phone.

She assured herself that her husband was busy helping his fellows after the accident. In the afternoon she sent a photo of their children at her parents’ place and exhorted him to read the message.

But the photo of their son and daughter sitting on the porch just above the floodwaters never reached Quyet.

Linhs last messages to Quyet: Baby. Please read the message. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

Linh's last message to her husband Major Pham Ngoc Quyet, one of the 22 soldiers killed in a landslide in Quang Tri on October 18, 2020: "Please read the message." Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

She had never visited her husband’s workplace before because it was too far, and so decided to take two relatives along with her in a cab to Quyet’s barracks in Huong Phung Commune, Huong Hoa District.

It was dark when they reached Khe Sanh Town, three kilometers from Quyet’s barracks. Linh, getting off and walking in the rain, did not dare use her phone flashlight fearing the battery would drain.

She headed for the lights and noise of engines and reached the accident scene. Everything was "dark and chaotic."

Quyet was among the first victims found. Linh stood at a distance and watched people take his body away to another place to burn incense because there was a threat of more landslides.

She did not remember how she returned to Dong Ha Town.

"He was an orphan when he was my daughter’s age. Now she has no father."

Her son and daughter were taken by local authorities to Dong Ha Town on October 19 for their father’s funeral. The floods in the central region meant it was impossible for her to call up relatives in Quang Binh Province, Quyet’s hometown.

Just like Dung and Nhung, Linh and Quyet had had little time together and never a vacation.

Luong Thi Ly was devastated by the death of her son, Le The Linh, and was unable to stop crying.

Her relatives and neighbors comforted her for two days after learning about the accident. They took her to the scene of the accident, which was blocked by the landslide and emergency personnel, and then to the gymnasium after knowing the bodies would be taken there.

The 55-year-old woman said amid her tears: "I have not seen my son. It is raining and cold. I do not know if he feels cold."

She said she had a premonition after Linh’s video call on October 17. The young man had spoke with all his family members for more than one hour. His sister-in-law had told him to go to bed since it was late.

He had then spoken with Ly, who always tried to hide her health condition to put her son at ease.

Ly (R) could not stop crying following her sons death. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

Luong Thi Ly (R) was inconsolable at the death of her son, one of the 22 soldiers killed in a landslide in Quang Tri on October 18, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

"I will not wear a shirt to sleep for the rest of my life," he had told her when she told him to wear a shirt to bed.

That was the last they spoke.

Linh was the third son in his family. He dropped out of school in grade 10 and did many jobs before joining the military. He had hoped to go to South Korea to work after three years of service.

"Your life was so short; what can I do now?" Ly lamented. While they lived in a province where a lot of people had died during the war, she never thought her son would die during peacetime.

Women like Nhung, Linh and Ly now wish for nothing but the lives of their loved ones.

Nhung said amid sobs: "I do not need him to come home every day; once a year is okay, but please do not keep silent like this."

Her dream of having a family photo taken has been shattered

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