‘The sky had fallen’: survivor of fatal wall collapse in southern Vietnam

By Phuoc Tuan, Dang Khoa   May 15, 2020 | 04:35 pm GMT+7
Survivors of a wall collapse that crushed ten to death in Dong Nai Province on Thursday speak of physical pain and trauma.

Pham Thanh Phu and his wife were standing on scaffolding five meters high to plaster a wall when he heard someone yelling "Wall's collapsing!"

Before he had time to respond, Phu was buried under a stack of metal.

"It felt like the sky had fallen. Metal pressed against my chest - my arm hurt so bad I thought it had been severed. I passed out shortly after," Phu, 44, said while under treatment at Trang Bom General Hospital in Dong Nai Province.

The 12-meter-high, 100-meter-long wall had collapsed around 3 p.m. at a construction site for South Korean AV Healthcare, which produces tampons, diapers and milk bottles, in Giang Dien Industrial Park of Trang Bom District on Thursday.

With a wound to his head and a broken left arm, Phu turned around to check on his wife, Le Thi Tuyet Linh, 41, who suffered injuries to her face.

Pham Thanh Phu and his wife Le Thi Tuyet Linh at the Trang Bom General Hospital in Dong Nai Province. Photo by VnExpress/Dang Khoa

Pham Thanh Phu and his wife Le Thi Tuyet Linh at the Trang Bom General Hospital in Dong Nai Province. Photo by VnExpress/Dang Khoa.

As Linh recalled, along with other workers, she and her husband were working near the middle of the wall at the time of the incident. Luckily for them, the collapse occurred towards the other end, causing them to merely fall from the scaffolding.

As Linh and her husband were pulled from the mess, she reached out for Phu, who did not respond.

"Waking up in the emergency room and seeing my husband able to move, I was so happy that I almost cried," Linh said.

From Vinh Long Province in the Mekong Delta, Phu traveled over 200 kilometers (124 miles) northeast to Dong Nai, a neighbor of HCMC, employed at the construction site for two months at a salary of VND400,000 ($17) per day.

When the contractor announced it needed more masons at VND290,000 per day, he urged Linh to take the job, who brought their two children to Dong Nai.

"We could not make money at home so this was the right move."

Now, out of danger, Phu said he hopes to recover soon and get back to work, "or else I would have to take my wife and kids home, empty handed."

Two beds away from Phu, Vo Van Bac, 45, was busy tending to his wife.

Bac was digging a manhole next to the wall when strong winds arrived. He did not pay much attention to the habitual gust since the construction site is surrounded by vacant land. When he heard the sound of scaffolding and bricks falling, however, he threw his shovel down and ran just as the wall collapsed.

"It was so frightful. There were people buried under the wall and I could only see their heads," he said.

Those lucky enough to escape the collapse rushed to the rescue. A shocked Bac called out to his wife Dang Thi Suot, 44, who was nowhere to be found.

With the help of his colleagues, Bac found Suot lying motionless under layers of iron and concrete. "Her feet were crushed and bleeding."

After rescuing his wife, he rushed to look for his aunt, Truong Thi Lan Thanh, 51, who only suffered injuries to her face, arms and feet. Her husband, like Bac, had escaped intact.

From An Giang Province in the Mekong Delta, Bac, Suot, Thanh and her husband moved to Dong Nai to work after drought and salinity left their fields ravaged.

They had only worked at the construction site for 10 days after Vietnam eased its social distancing rules, established in the beginning of April to contain Covid-19.

"This is too scary. My uncle and I plan to have our wives take the kids back home," Bac said.

Part of the collapsed wall at the contrusction site of AV Healthcare at Giang Dien Industrial Park in Dong Nais Trang Bom District. Photo by VnExpress/Phuoc Tuan

Part of the collapsed wall at the construction site of AV Healthcare at Giang Dien Industrial Park in Dong Nai's Trang Bom District. Photo by VnExpress/Phuoc Tuan.

Bui Chi Cuong, a mason from Ca Mau, another Mekong Delta province, is still in shock recalling the wall crumbling only five meters from where he was stationed.

Cuong, who had taken a 10-minute break, swung around when he heard a big sound, seeing "the entire wall fell like a domino," following a strong wind.

"Dust hovered over everything and I could not see much. I heard people screaming for help. Along with other workers, I rushed to rescue five people trapped inside the rubble."

Some workers were not lucky enough to escape death, however.

In a group, they had left their hometown in Thoi Binh District of Ca Mau to work in Dong Nai. On Friday, those left of the initial party, brought the bodies of Nguyen Van Cuong, 56, and Nguyen Van Diep, 37, back home.

Transporting her husband's body, Nguyen Thi Suong could not hold back her tears as she recalled the moment she saw him crushed by tons of concrete. The couple had left their home two months ago to work at the construction site after their aqua farm was affected by salt intrusion.

Cuong worked on the scaffolding while Suong, 55, mixed plaster on the ground.

"As it was almost break time, I called him down to drink some water, but he insisted on finishing some work first. Minutes later the entire wall fell down and crushed him," she lamented.

Suong was standing two meters away when the accident happened. "When I returned, I could not see him. He had already passed away when we found him."

Suong sits on a car that carries the body of her husbands Nguyen Van Cuong back to their hometown in Ca Mau Province. Photo by VnExpress/Phuoc Tuan

Nguyen Thi Suong sits on a car that carries the body of her husband's Nguyen Van Cuong back to their hometown in Ca Mau Province. Photo by VnExpress/Phuoc Tuan.

The family of Diep suffered similar misfortune.

At the end of April, their shrimp farm was severely damaged by salinity, leaving them empty handed.

To make ends meet, Diep had to leave his wife and two kids to find work in Dong Nai.

Le Quang Trung, deputy director of Dong Nai Health Department, said 15 victims of the wall collapse are receiving treatment at Trang Bom General Hospital. Most are now in stable condition and did not suffer critical injuries.

Initial investigation revealed 60-70 workers were present at the site when the accident took place, said Colonel Tran Tuan Trieu, deputy director of Dong Nai Police Department.

Eight were killed on the spot while two died at hospital. Of the deceased, one is female and the rest men.

Most victims are from the Mekong Delta, he confirmed.

An investigation has been launched into the incident.

Ha Duy Hai, director of Dong Nai-based Ha Hai Nga Co. Ltd, the project contractor, and two of his inferiors have been detained for probing.

Police have interviewed 35 workers who managed to escape the incident.

 
 
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