Landslide in Vietnam kills at least 20 military personnel

By Livia Albeck-Ripka

A landslide in Vietnam on Sunday killed at least 20 military personnel and left two missing, the local news media reported, following weeks of torrential rains and flooding that have devastated parts of the country and killed dozens of people.

The mudslide began in the early hours of Sunday and leveled the soldiers’ barracks in Huong Phung Commune, in the central coastal province of Quang Tri.

“There have been four to five landslides, exploding like bombs, and it feels like the whole mountain is about to collapse,” Ha Ngoc Duong, the vice chairman of the commune, told VnExpress, an online state-run news outlet.

Duong added that the mudslides were likely to continue, hindering search-and-rescue efforts.

The deaths could be the country’s largest military loss in peacetime, officials said, and came just days after another landslide killed 13 people, most of whom were also members of the military, in neighboring Thua Thien Hue.

“We’ve never lost so many military members, including two generals and high-ranking officials, in natural disasters,” the government said in a statement.

Pham Tan An, a survivor of the Sunday mudslide, told VnExpress he felt “completely powerless” after seeing his colleagues buried beneath the rubble.

“For us who were lucky enough to survive, it’s really heartbreaking to know our 22 teammates didn’t make it. Now, when closing my eyes, all I can think of is us enjoying a meal together,” he told the news outlet.

Rapid development and deforestation have exacerbated the damage caused by seasonal flooding. Floods in 2018 killed more than 20 people and destroyed hundreds of homes.

“Vietnam has the perfect storm,” Adam Switzer, a sedimentologist at the Earth Observatory of Singapore, said of Vietnam’s susceptibility to flooding and landslides. “It has seas, rainfall, it has very heavily vegetated steep slopes, and it has seismic activity.”

Extreme downpours have pummeled Vietnam since early October, causing some of the worst flooding in years. More severe rain is expected this week.

In Quang Tri province alone, close to 50 people are dead or missing. More than 12,000 residents have been evacuated because of the floods, which have inundated nearly 45,000 homes, the state news media reported.

Seventy schools have also been submerged beneath the floodwaters in areas along the Thach Han River in Quang Tri, according to the government newspaper VGP News.

So far, the floods have cost Vietnam around $520,000, Vo Van Hung, the chairman of the Quang Tri People’s Committee, told the paper.

“We need to understand why this happened,” said Switzer, the sedimentologist, who warned that effects of climate change could cause similarly devastating floods in the future, “so that when the next landslide happens, we are better prepared.”

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