Tragedy compounded: landslide buries 13 rescue team members

By Vo Thanh, Dac Thanh, Duc Hung, Hoang Thuy   October 13, 2020 | 08:04 am PT
Tragedy compounded: landslide buries 13 rescue team members
One of seven excavators sent to Phong Dien Commune of Thua Thien-Hue Province to clear the way blocked by a landslide for a rescue mission of a hydro power plant construction team, October 13, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.
13 members of a rescue team sent to verify a landslide report were themselves buried by a landslide Monday night in central Vietnam.

The 13, listed missing as search operations continue, include Nguyen Van Man, Deputy Commander of the 4th Military Region of Vietnam People's Army, and several soldiers and officials.

They were part of a 21-member rescue team that had set out to verify reports of 10 workers buried by a landslide near a hydropower plant deep in the jungle in Phong Xuan Commune, Phong Dien District, Thua Thien-Hue Province.

Major General Pham Van Ty, deputy chief of office of the national disaster response steering committee, announced Tuesday that a local had reported the accident Monday saying he had climbed a mountain to make the call. The phone number was reported out of service later.

The accident had reportedly taken place at a construction site of the Rao Trang 3 hydropower plant.

The plant stands deep within the jungle, around 30 km (18.6 miles) from Phong Xuan, said Tran Van Toan, deputy chairman of the commune.

On Monday afternoon, the team of 21 men, including soldiers of the 4th Military Region, which guards and protects six central provinces including Thua Thien-Hue, set out for the area where the accident was reported to verify it. Nguyen Thanh Binh, the province’s vice chairman, was also part of the team.

Around 11 p.m. on Monday, the team reported that it was around 3 km away from the project and was facing a lot of difficulty moving forward because of flooding and landslides.

After making that report, the entire team rested, spending the night in two different rooms at a rangers station.

In the middle of the night, a landslide hit the station and only a few managed to escape.

"13 people, including deputy commander Man, are still missing. We have only been able to contact and locate eight," Ty said. Provincial vice chairman Binh is one of the eight who managed to escape.

Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung has arrived in Phong Dien District to oversee the search and rescue mission. Authorities are considering deploying helicopters.

"Air force personnel have arrived at the scene and are ready for the mission," said Vu Van Kha, acting Commander of the Air Defense - Air Force Service under Vietnam People’s Air Force.

Military forces on their way to the area near Rao Trang 3 hydropowerplant project, October 13, 2020. Photo courtesy of Thua Thien-Hue newspaper.

Military forces on their way to the area near Rao Trang 3 hydropower plant, October 13, 2020. Photo courtesy of Thua Thien-Hue newspaper.

By Tuesday morning, over 100 people comprising soldiers, police officers and medics had been sent to Phong Xuan Commune for the rescue mission.

For now, the 20 km path from the main road to the Rao Trang 3 project has at least 10 areas that have been hit by serious landslides and four streams that are in spate, a local source said.

When the landslide took place near the hydropower plant, 40 other workers, including three Indians, had safely moved to the nearby Rao Trang 4 power plant, which was also cut off by landslides and flooding later.

By Tuesday night the rescue team was able to reach this group and provide them with food and water, as also send five to receive emergency aid.

Yet, it has been confirmed that as many as 17 workers have been buried in the local landslide.

Since last week, central Vietnam has been bombarded by rains, floods and landslides after a cold spell came in contact with tropical turbulence, which have killed at least 29 people, leaving 12 missing, and inundating over 130,000 houses.

As of Tuesday, Thua Thien-Hue has reported six deaths and thousands of homes submerged. Provincial authorities have asked for emergency supplies including food, medicines and rescue gear.

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