Tanker-ice carrier collision survivors recount horror story

By Phuoc Tuan   November 22, 2018 | 08:12 pm PT
Residents smashed walls, screamed through ventilation vents as a deadly blaze struck without warning in southern Vietnam.

It was still dark and deserted as Bui Thanh Vinh drove his modified three-wheeler to deliver ice.

Then, out of the blue, something slammed into his vehicle with great force and Vinh and his vehicle went flying.

After being wound up in the head, the three-wheeler driver was sent home. Photo by VnExpress/ Phuoc Tuan.

Bui Thanh Vinh, who was driving a modified three-wheeled motorbike rickshaw, was fortunate to survive a deadly accident with minor injuries Thursday morning in Binh Phuoc Province. Photo by VnExpress/ Phuoc Tuan

The driver and the vehicle landed on the sidewalk about three meters away, but as the fallen man looked back to see what had hit him, he saw a scary sight.

The tanker that had hit him swerved, hit an electric pole and overturned. The petrol it was carrying spilled and caught fire.

"The fire spread very fast. The driver of the tank broke the glass and crawled out, but he was on fire. Both of us were rescued by people and taken to the hospital," Vinh said.

The fire went on to engulf 19 houses along the highway Thursday morning. Six people were killed.

Sitting in a half-burned house, Vo Chi Cong, 32, is still traumatized, although he and his family narrowly escaped death.

"We were sleeping when I heard a loud explosion on the street, so I got up." Opening the door, he panicked when he saw the street on fire. He screamed out to his family to flee. The house has no backdoor, so he risked opening the front door to escape. But as soon as it was opened, the smoke rushed in. Cong could not take his family out that way so he closed the door.

Cong used a wet towel to block the openings in his house to keep the smoke out and asked his wife and 3-year-old daughter to go to the bathroom. They could hear the sound of the fire and feel its heat. His wife and kid were screaming in fear, making Cong increasingly nervous.

After 30 minutes of taking refuge in the bathroom, the father saw his girl show signs of suffocation and looked for another way out. Pointing to a broken hammer lying nearby, Cong told VnExpress that in his desperation, he tried to smash the wall, but wasn’t able to.

"We were all thinking that we would die. We could not get out, there was smoke outside and the house could collapse."

Cong climbed out a ventilation window and started screaming for help, hoping his neighbors would hear him.

Fortunately, his next-door neighbor Le Vu Thanh was fleeing his own house at the moment and quickly directed firefighters to Cong’s house.

"About 30 minutes later, the fire was under control, and I yelled out, telling him and his family to run out. If they had waited for another five minutes, the whole family would not have survived," said Thanh.

Thanh’s family was able to escape the fire thanks to a backdoor in their house.

Vo Chi Cong is still traumatized as he entails the escape scene of his family. Photo by VnExpress/Phuoc Tuan

Vo Chi Cong is still traumatized as he speaks about his family’s providential escape from a blaze that engulfed 19 houses after a petrol tanker overturned and caught fire. Photo by VnExpress/Phuoc Tuan

Like Cong’s family, Suu's heard an explosion at dawn and immediately rushed out of the house. When three had gotten out the fire started licking at their house and others, six of them, including Suu, had to step back into the house.

He picked up a hammer and smashed the rear wall so all six of them could get out.

"When I saw the big fire, I told myself to stay calm to escape, because panic could have killed us for sure," said Suu, relieved that his family escaped although the fire gutted his store.

A man who lost his family

Those who survived the fire had no reason to rejoice, though.

They mourned the deaths of their neighbors.

Nguyen Tung Chinh, 18, and Vo Hong Anh, 6, were also sleeping when the fire broke out. They quickly jumped over a low wall on the side of their house. But the gasoline from the tank near them ignited more fire, killing them.

Than, a neighbor to the victims, said the fire was higher than the electric pole.

"My entire family just ran out without thinking. Only after the fire was extinguished did we know that Tu, and her friend and her two children, a 15-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl, died in their house."

Le Van Tuan, Tu’s husband, cried continuously as he did the paper work to take his wife and children to their hometown for the funeral.

Tu said he was driving a truck away to get some fruits for sale. When he arrived in the nearby Binh Duong Province, his relatives called and told him about the fire.

"I rushed home. When I arrived, my wife and kids had all died. I only hope they would rest in peace and their souls not wander around," said Tuan.

(Many Vietnamese believe that souls of people who die of unnatural causes can be resentful and not depart to the world of the dead.)

The burnt house that result in four deaths. Photo by VnExpress/ Phuoc Tuan

The burnt house in which four people died. Photo by VnExpress/ Phuoc Tuan

Accident details

On the morning of November 22, Thach Van Phong was driving a petrol tanker on Highway 13, from HCMC to Binh Long town in Binh Phuoc Province in the south of the country.

Around 4.30 a.m., the tanker crashed into the back of a modified motorbike carrier in Chon Thanh District, two hours north of Ho Chi Minh City.

The tanker then went on to crash into a media strip, mount the sidewalk and hit a medium voltage power pole before overturning and spilling petrol on the highway.

The petrol quickly caught fire, engulfing a series of houses along the highway.

Six people died while dozens of others suffered serious injuries and were rushed to a local hospital for treatment. 19 houses were badly burned and the tanker was completely destroyed by the raging flames.

Doctors from Cho Ray Hospital in HCMC said the tanker driver suffered burns on his face, neck, limbs, and back.

Investigation found the driver was speeding when the accident happened. The tank was at 99 kph, while the highway only allows a maximum speed of 60 kph.

No information has been shared by authorities on subsequent actions or on the state of health of the injured victims.

go to top