Feeling of impotence: Soldiers recall losing 22 comrades to landslide

By Duc Hung, Nguyen Hai, Hoang Tao   October 19, 2020 | 01:41 pm GMT+7
Survivors remember feeling 'powerless' as rock and soil buried their 22 sleeping comrades, an image that would haunt them for eternity.

Pham Tan An was sleeping when he heard a large blast.

Rushing outside, An saw rock and soil pour down a mountain and bury three buildings of the Defense Economics Division 337 barracks in Huong Phung Commune, Huong Hoa District of central Quang Tri Province.

"It was past midnight [Sunday], 27 of us were asleep in the three buildings as it happened. I suddenly heard many cries for help."

Panicked, An screamed "landslide!" and immediatly tried offering his assistance to those in peril.

In the light of a mobile phone, the soldier recalled seeing many of his comrades buried beneath the rubble, "feeling completely powerless."

It was then he heard Huy shout for help.

"I rushed to check on him first. Though he said he’s still ok, I saw there was no way to free him from the debris. All I could do was call for help myself, and notify my superiors."

Three more landslides occurred, burying a total 22 personnel of group 337. Only five other members managed to escape.

Information soldier Pham Tan An recalls the moments when a mountain landslide happened on the first hour of October 18, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Hung Tien

Communictions officer Pham Tan An recalls the moments when a mountain landslide hit his barracks in Quang Tri Province in the first hours of October 18, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Hung Tien.

As a communications officer with experience working in mountainous areas, this is the first time An has witnessed such a terrible event.

"For us who were lucky enough to survive, it’s really heartbreaking to know our 22 teammates didn't make it. Now, when closing my eyes, all I can think of is us enjoying a meal together," a teary An maintained.

Saved by his comrades, Huy claimed he "had been born for the second time."

Asleep at the time the landslide struck, he failed to avoid a collapsing wall that pinned down his body.

"I screamed so hard for help, it was a miracle I was heard. My comrades helped me escape before more landslides buried everything, scattering debris tens of meters away," Huy said.

The army division is managed by the 4th Military Region of Vietnam People's Army that oversees the north-central region.

The group had been assigned to assist five remote communes in Huong Hoa District, which borders Laos, in mitigating the impacts of prolonged flooding and landslides triggered by abnormally heavy downpours across the central region.

The day prior to the incident, 27 division members had trekked over 30 km (18.6 miles) from their barracks to Huong Viet Commune to support local ethnic minorities.

They got back at around midnight only to be hit by the landslide around an hour later.

"Everyone had spent the whole day in the rain. On returning, some had been too tired to shower and went straight to bed," another survivor recalled.

By Monday afternoon, the bodies of all 22 personnel were recovered.

Rescue teams search for the remaining members of the Defense Economics Division 337 buried by a mountain landslide in central Quang Tri Province, October 19, 2020. Photo by VnExpress.

Rescue teams search for the remaining members of the Defense Economics Division 337 buried by a mountain landslide in central Quang Tri Province, October 19, 2020. Photo by VnExpress.

At least 93 people have died and around 53,000 families evacuated as of Monday due to flooding and landslides in central Vietnam.

For nearly two weeks the region has been suffering from heavy rains, floods and landslides triggered by a meeting of a cold spell from the north and the intertropical convergence zone stretching from the India Ocean across the region to the Philippines.

Heavy rains continued unabated Sunday, with localities from Ha Tinh to Quang Tri recording rainfall of up to 200 mm between 1 a.m. and 1 p.m. Some areas in Quang Binh got 230 mm. Rainfall of 180 mm a day is considered heavy.

More heavy rains are expected until Wednesday, meteorologists have warned.

Natural disasters, mostly floods and landslides triggered by storms, killed 132 people and injured 207 last year.

 
 
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