Landslides claimed the lives of 18 people in the northern province of Hoa Binh on Thursday, and some people remain missing.
Survivors said they had seen rifts on the nearby mountain a week before, but no warnings or evacuation orders had been issued by authorities.
Rescuers look for bodies buried in a landslide in Hoa Binh Province. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Hiep
Bui Van Dung, who lives near a waterfall in Phu Cuong Commune, said there had been a lot of rain for a month but the authorities had not issued any warnings.
Then masses of soil and rocks started sliding down at 1:30 a.m. on Friday, he said.
Local government officials admitted that they had only foreseen the risk from rising floods, not the landslide, which was the worst recorded in Hoa Binh’s history. The largest hydropower dam in Southeast Asia in the province also released record amounts of water last week as rainfall reached 500mm in 24 hours.
Forecasts were both inadequate and inaccurate. A weather forecast on Tuesday afternoon said water in the reservoir was going to rise by up to 3,800 cubic meters a second, but it turned out to be around three times more.
Flashfloods and landslides from a tropical depression killed at least 68 people in Hanoi, Hoa Binh, Nghe An, Quang Tri, Thanh Hoa, Son La and Yen Bai this week, according to a Saturday report from the Central Steering Committee for Natural Disaster Prevention and Control. At least 34 others are missing.
The death toll is the heaviest ever recorded from a flood disaster in Vietnam.
The damage was also much heavier than the eight people killed last month by Typhoon Doksuri, the strongest typhoon to hit Vietnam in a decade which came with intensive forecasts and warnings.
In August, sudden floods also killed at least 26 people in northern Vietnam and washed away hundreds of homes.
According to Vietnamese officials, late forecasts are just the immediate problem, while the bigger, deep-rooted issues are uncontrolled deforestation and mineral excavation in the region.
Many upstream forests in the northern highlands have been cleared while there’s no efficient plan for excavations, experts said at a meeting on Saturday.
Nguyen Ba Ke, former head of the Vietnam Institute for Building Science and Technology, said the main reason for landslides in the area is human intervention that has changed the environment.
“Landslides were not as common before. But deforestation, road construction and mineral excavation have caused the ground to lose its grip,” Ke said.
According to the disaster control center, 640 people were left either dead or missing in Vietnam due to flashfloods and landslides between 2000 and 2014.
A study by Vietnam’s environment ministry found 10,260 spots vulnerable to landslides in the northern highlands.
Experts said that more efforts should be made to help local people survive the situation, including mapping out areas at risk and monitoring geological changes.
Tropical Storm Khanun is weakening as it moves toward the Tonkin Gulf but is expected to bring more rains to northern and central Vietnam from Monday.
Last year, tropical storms and flooding killed 264 people in Vietnam and caused damage worth VND40 trillion ($1.75 billion), nearly five times more than in 2015.