Vietnam province drowns in misery amid continuing rain, floods

By Thanh Lam, Hoang Tao   October 20, 2020 | 10:35 am GMT+7
People in Thua Thien-Hue Province in central Vietnam might be no strangers to floods, but the blackouts and food shortage of the past few weeks are taking their toll.

Huynh Kim Luong was standing in a corner of his home, struggling to find a spot for guests to sit. The pots, pans and clothes scattered around the house were illuminated by the light of flickering candles.

"It has been 21 years since I saw such a flood," he said.

For the past 10 days the 60-year-old farmer and his family of three have barely stepped outside. In their Huong Toan Commune in Thua Thien-Hue, floods triggered by heavy rains have inundated over 2,000 homes. The only sounds they hear these days are the thump of rain falling on the roof, the clattering of windows in the wind, and distant hums of motorboats moving through the sea of water.

Like many people in central Vietnam, Luong and his wife Hoa were proud of their ability to live with floods. Since the beginning of this month, Hoa has been stocking up rice, dry fish and peanut on warnings of coming storms and rains. They knew not to stock up on meat since electricity is always cut when a storm hits. They were right.

On the morning of October 9 Luong opened his front door only to see the water almost reaching the threshold following heavy rain the previous night. As the hours passed and the rain showed no signs of relenting, the water started to come inside the house. Everywhere in the neighborhood, people were yelling that the floods had come.

Their eldest daughter, who is in her final year of high school, began to put all her books into plastic bags. Her parents waded around the house to salvage the family’s most valuable belongings like the refrigerator, TV and stove, and put them on a table that is reinforced with four blocks of wood.

Within a span of not even a day, Huong Toan turned from green paddy fields to muddy sea in the afternoon. With the electricity duly cut and dusk falling, the area, now flooded for dozens of kilometers along National Highway 1, slowly sank into darkness.

Huynh Kim Luong (R) and his wife Hoa have not left their home in Thua Thien-Hue Province for the last 10 days amid the heavy flooding. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao.

Huynh Kim Luong (R) and his wife Hoa have not left their home in Thua Thien-Hue Province for the last 10 days amid the heavy flooding. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao.

Also on October 9, in Huong Van Commune, about six kilometers away, Le Thi Thuc spent a sleepless night watching the water rise.

"I say ‘keeping watch,’ but the water will rise anyway even if I’m asleep. But my mind can be a little bit at rest if I watch it," she said.

The 54-year-old too has been confined at home for several days.

That night the entire family took refuge in the bedroom of her 85-year-old mother, whose room is situated farthest from the water. Thuc told her three children to go to sleep early, reminding them to turn off their phones to save the battery for the coming days without electricity.

Dung, her husband, shone the flashlight at the floor, sighing. The water was closing in. That night none of the three adults in the household slept a wink.

The local rice milling shop closed as soon as it started raining, catching Thuc off guard, leaving her no time to prepare enough food for the family.

Luckily her sister, who lives on higher ground, helped out, rowing a boat to Thuc’s house to deliver much-needed rice, bamboo shoot broth and boiled duck.

Seeing the family of six enjoying a meal sitting on a bed, surrounded by floodwater, Thuc could not help but weep.

For the next eight days the water ebbed and flowed. The children kept asking when the rain would stop, but the weather forecast kept getting gloomier.

The whole family had to shovel and sweep the mud and sludge entering the house. "It was like walking in a swamp," they said.

Last Friday the water started to recede a little, going down to waist level, and Thuc took the opportunity to go out and buy some fish and vegetables. Looking around the neighborhood after being trapped inside the house for a week, she failed to recognize the place.

People in Huong Toan Commune, Thua Thien-Hue Province, row boats on their flooded streets to receive instant noodles and other relief supplies. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao.

People in Huong Toan Commune, Thua Thien-Hue Province, row boats on their flooded streets to receive instant noodles and other relief supplies. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao.

In Huong Toan, the situation has been grim. With the water showing no signs of receding, Hoang Trong Hieu, the commune chairman, other officials and police officers have not gone home for the last 10 days.

The group, which consists of over 20 people, has divided itself to take 24-hour shifts at the People’s Committee office to distribute supplies and respond to emergencies like transporting the injured and evacuating people.

Since the entire commune is under a meter of water, all travel is done by boat.

"It has been a long time since we saw our feet," a member of the group joked, carrying bags of rice on his shoulder in chest-deep water. The man had given Luong’s family two cartons of instant noodles the other day.

The day before electricity was cut, Luong’s had some vegetables, eggs and fish in the refrigerator, but only enough for two days for the family of three. So for the next eight days they had nothing to eat but rice and dry fish.

"I was given instant noodles but did not dare eat them because I did not want to urinate too much," he explained.

Luong’s wife, who had surgery just a month ago, stumbled in the dark and fell one night as she sought to go to the bathroom amid the sea of water. Since then he has been placing pots by the bed and replaces the candles twice every night.

"There are a lot of mosquitoes due to all the water."

Nguyen Van Lieu wades through water to the stove in his flooded home in Thua Thien Hue Province, October 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao.

Nguyen Van Lieu wades through water to the stove in his flooded home in Thua Thien Hue Province, October 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao.

In Huong Van Commune, Nguyen Van Lieu, 63, has taken over the most dangerous task from his wife since the floods came: cooking. He dons his conical hat and raincoat every day to light the stove, standing in chest-deep water.

"If my wife gets into the water to cook, it will come up to her neck," he joked, patting his wife’s back with a smile.

Their house was almost completed earlier this year but the roof has not been finished. The family is among the luckier ones in the neighborhood since the water only comes up to the thighs even during the heaviest rains.

But the kitchen is a different story. There had been over 20 bags of rice, weighing over a ton, but everything was soaked the very first night. Vy, Lieu’s wife, had no choice but to give them away to her neighbors to feed their ducks and chickens. She has been borrowing rice from others.

They have not told their two eldest children, who are workers in the south, about their situation, not wanting to worry them.

Like many others, the couple have been trapped inside their home, situated just 100 m from the national highway, for more than a week. Every day Vy would cast her gaze on the other side of the highway to look at the paddy fields longingly despite realizing they must be submerged under water.

A few days before the rains came she had sold her first few gourds of the season. "They sell well this year at VND10,000 (43 cents) per kilogram," she said. She was hoping to earn around VND10 million from selling them all over two months.

But that was before the storm came. She was only able to sell for two days, earning VND240,000, before she was forced to remain at home.

She and her husband have been reminiscing about the historic flood in Thua Thien Hue 21 years ago. The deluge in November 1999 had submerged thousands of houses and paralyzed all traffic and electrical and communication systems in the province. There had been rainfall of up to 2,300 mm in just the first three days. Several people had been swept away and killed during that disaster.

At that time the couple and their children stacked two beds on top of each other and waited for the floods to recede, the anguished voices of people who lost loved ones in the background.

Their son, seeing how his parents had to face flooding year after year, wanted to help them find a safer place to live in, but they cannot countenance moving out of their hometown.

More heavy rains are expected in central Vietnam regions at least until Wednesday, meteorologists said.

Rivers are expected to rise further, as is the risk of floods and landslides. Vehicles continue to line up along National Highway 1 and other roads on higher ground as people park their cars and motorbikes there to avoid the water.

But the people cannot do the same, they cannot just leave their houses. The only thing that Luong, Thuc and Lieu can do is to barricade themselves inside their homes and pray for the water to go away

 
 
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