'As vicious as a flood': witness recalls Thanh Hoa canal rupture

By Le Hoang   December 30, 2020 | 03:30 am PT
'As vicious as a flood': witness recalls Thanh Hoa canal rupture
Trinh Thi Ninh recalls being swept away by the water when a canal in Phung Minh Commune, Thanh Hoa Province, broke on December 27, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Le Hoang.
It has been days since a river canal in central Thanh Hoa Province ruptured on Sunday, the scene still filled with dirt and debris.

Next to the stream, fields of crops and patches of garden lie buried in the aftermath.

Trinh Thi Ninh, 57, has been living in Phung Minh Commune for decades. Her house is right next to a local hill, situated only about 100 meters from Chu River-Ma River Canal. Even though the area suffers yearly flooding, Ninh had never experienced anything akin to the canal rupture.

"The water just came down as vicious as a flood," she said Tuesday, the fear still noticeable in her eyes.

At around 10 a.m. Sunday, Ninh was in a shed near her house preparing to feed her pigs when she heard "loud banging noises."

"Within seconds, the water rushed down, murky with mud and rocks. I didn't know what was going on as it hasn’t rained in a while and we’re in the middle of a drought season," she recalled.

By reflex, she grabbed the cages holding her chickens and sprinted towards the hill. But the water came too fast and too strong, sweeping her downstream. As she let go of the cages, Ninh mustered all her strength to grab onto a nearby branch, hoping to survive.

"The water swept me away, pushing itself against my face, swallowing my vision. There were times when I was close to letting go, but I gave up all my strength and clung onto the branch. If I lost my breath, I would have died."

Ninh struggled under the water for about 10 minutes before her husband, Trinh Khac Bich, came to the rescue. Luckily, she only suffered light bruises, with her health currently stable.

The canal section that ran through Phung Minh Commune burst at around 9:45 a.m., releasing around 150,000 cubic meters of water into nearby fields. Around 20,000 cubic meters of soil were swept away, and 400 cubic meters of rocks used to fortify the canal displaced.

The canal rupture has ruined her family’s three-ton fish harvest, killing hundreds of poultry and destroying numerous crops.

"It’s almost Tet (Lunar New Year) and the whole family was counting on the fish and chicken. Now there’s nothing left," Ninh lamented.

Nguyen Anh Tuan, chairman of Phung Minh Commune People’s Committee, said the canal’s rupture did not cause any human losses, but 30 families along with around four hectares of fish ponds and crops were affected.

Local farmers were supposed to take water from the canal starting Tuesday to prepare for the next harvest season. But due to the canal rupture Sunday, that had to be delayed, Le Duc Giang, deputy chairman of Thanh Hoa People’s Committee, said Tuesday.

"It is an unforeseen incident. The delay in water supply would affect agricultural production and harvests ," said Giang, adding that the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development should resolve the problem soon.

The burst canal is operated by the Management Board for Irrigation Investment and Construction 3, but the board has been "slow to inform the agriculture ministry about the incident," said deputy agriculture minister Nguyen Hoang Hiep, adding he was only made aware Monday.

Hiep requested the board resolve the issue within the next two days so farmers could use the water. Authorities should also calculate losses caused by the event so there could be appropriate compensation.

The ministry said on Wednesday that the rupture happened because the canal's foundation was not firm.

The Chu River-Ma River canal, spanning over 370 kilometers, began construction in 2011. The canal cost over VND4.3 trillion ($186.4 million) and provides water from two lakes in Thuong Xuan District for over 31,000 hectares of agriculture land, as well as families in several Thanh Hoa districts like Tho Xuan, Yen Dinh, Thieu Hoa, Ngoc Lac and Thuong Xuan.

The aftermath of the Chu River-Ma River canal rupture in Thanh Hoa Province on December 27, 2020. Video by VnExpress/Le Hoang.

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