Hanoi citizens evacuate over warehouse fire impacts

By Tat Dinh   September 1, 2019 | 09:18 am GMT+7
Hanoi citizens evacuate over warehouse fire impacts
The burned Rang Dong warehouse in Thanh Xuan Trung Ward, next to Ha Dinh Ward, Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

Seven worst-affected households and many others are evacuating to avoid toxic impacts of Hanoi’s Rang Dong warehouse fire that broke out Wednesday.

35-year-old Tran Anh Tu, a resident in Lane 342, Khuong Dinh Street, has returned home to remove the rest of his belongings and move into a newly rented room three days after the fire at Rang Dong Light Source and Vacuum Flask JSC's warehouse in Thanh Xuan Trung Ward, Thanh Xuan District.

His family’s three-storey house is situated a few inches from the wall of the warehouse. The fire had burnt all of their furniture on the attic, and there are now large cracks on the walls of the house.

"We cannot return home for fear that the house will collapse at any time. The fire has taken all of our furniture, as well as our water and electricity systems," said Tu.

Authorities of Thanh Xuan District and representatives of Rang Dong have visited his house to estimate the damage, but so far, his family has not received an evacuation notice, Tu said.

Next to Tu's house, 56-year-old Bui Van Doan’s home has had two of its upper floors destroyed by the fire. His wife and daughter have moved to an acquaintance’s house, while Doan has stayed back to look after his motorbike repair shop on the ground floor.

"My eyes have been stinging and I have been fatigued for the last few days," Doan said, after being exposed to dust and other contaminants from the fire.

Bui Van Doans house in Ha Dinh Ward, Hanois Thanh Xuan District, has two of its upper floors destroyed by the Rang Dong fire on August 28, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh. 

Bui Van Doan's house in Ha Dinh Ward, Hanoi's Thanh Xuan District, has two of its upper floors destroyed by the Rang Dong fire on August 28, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh. 

On Wednesday, a five-hour blaze that started at 6 p.m. destroyed a third of the inventory at a 6,000-square-meter warehouse of Rang Dong. The inventory included light bulbs.

Tran Hong Con of the chemistry department at the Vietnam National University-Hanoi, said lightbulbs contain glass, plastic and mercury, and when burned, the plastic, mercury and fluorescent powders may break down into dust and get released into the air, causing headaches and chest pains if inhaled.

Mercury in particular is a toxic metal which accumulates in the human body and is hard to get rid of, he said. High levels of mercury, given that tens of thousands of lightbulbs were burnt in the fire, could cause many dangerous complications, including anemia, he said.

Next to the burnt warehouse, seven houses were damaged by the fire, forcing all inhabitants to flee. Another 16 households have kept their stores open to sell goods as usual.

Nguyen Thi Minh Phuong, 32, who has rented a bakery at a street nearby, said everyone is trying to return to normal life after the fire but it has left an undeniable impact.

"People who live here and workers still come to my place to eat, but I’ve received almost no passers-by," she said, adding that the number of her daily customers have fallen by half after the fire.

Without a clear conclusion on the contamination threat from authorities, some people in the area are already making the decision to leave. 79 year-old Le Khac A said his wife and two grandchildren have moved out to live with their relatives.

"My wife has developed a respiratory problem, she has a headache, and coughs a lot. We hope to receive an official conclusion about toxicity levels in the area so we can evacuate early," A said.

About 150 m away from the scene of the fire, half the households in the 140 apartment A1 building on Ha Dinh Street have moved.

"Although people have heard news that air monitoring results are normal, the smell here is quite strong, still. We have to leave temporarily to protect our health, and I expect more households to leave soon," Tien said.

The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources in a statement Saturday asked residents not to use food and water near the burned warehouse, although initial tests guaranteed safety.

Those living in the vicinity of the fire should be careful and closely follow personal hygiene measures advised by healthcare officials, it said. "The accident still poses potential risks that might affect the environment and people's health."

Locals should clean walls, floors and furniture in their houses and avoid using water from open tanks. They should also stop consuming food originating in the area where the accident took place until the authorities officially announce the reach of the debris caused by the fire, the statement noted.

The warning came despite Hanoi's Department of Natural Resources and Environment saying on Friday that tests on the water, air and soil around the warehouse came up with nothing unusual.

Rang Dong, listed on the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange, is a leading Vietnamese manufacturer of lighting products and equipment, electrical appliances and materials, glass products, and vacuum flasks.

It estimated a loss at VN150 billion ($6.4 million) from the fire.

The police are still investigating the fire and are yet to ascertain its cause.

 
 
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