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Nine families stuck atop 113-year-old prison roof

By Le Tan   August 19, 2022 | 05:00 pm PT
Nine households living on the roof of a 113-year-old prison building for more than 50 years are still waiting for a new home.

Built by the French, the prison stands on Le Thanh Tong Street, Ha Long Town, Quang Ninh Province, home to the renowned Ha Long Bay.

The prison stopped operating in 1919, but the building has stood until today. It's façade was destroyed to make a sidewalk for Le Thanh Tong Street, elderly people in the neighborhood say.

Nine families imprisoned atop 113-year-old prison roof

The remains of a prison in Quang Ninh Province, with nine families living on top. Photo by VnExpress

In the 1960s, locals began building makeshift apartments on the roof of the prison to live in.

Today, there are nine households staying in such apartments.

Pham Van Tri, 88, said he built a 50 sqm apartment in 1961 for his family. In 2001, the apartment was badly rundown and his family wanted to renovate it, but the work was stopped by local authorities, who said no one was allowed to make any structural change. The only adjustment he could do was to repaint it.

Living next to Tri is 47-year-old Do Van Khuong, who has lived on the prison roof for 20 years.

"The apartment has many cracks but we cannot fix it, making it very inconvenient and unsafe," he said.

Of the nine households, one family moved out when their apartment seemed close to crumbling.

Nine families imprisoned atop 113-year-old prison roof - 1

Pham Van Tri's house on top of the prison. Photo by VnExpress

Nguyen Duy Duong, head of Zone No.9 in Hong Gai Ward, home to the prison, said the nine households do not have any house ownership papers and the prison is treated as a war remnant so no one is allowed to build anything there.

These days, cracks have appeared around the roof of the prison, and people live in fear that their apartments could collapse one day.

Nine families imprisoned atop 113-year-old prison roof - 2

Old houses on top of the prison. Photo by VnExpress

Nguyen Manh Tuan, head of the Culture and Information agency in Ha Long Town, said that the nine households on the roof of the prison are on the list of places at risk of subsidence and need to be relocated.

"We are working on procedures to ask provincial authorities to officially recognize evidence of the prison as a relic, then we will plan to relocate these households," he said.

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