INFRASTRUCTURE AND MAN-MADE DISASTERS IN VIETNAM

INFRASTRUCTURE IN VIETNAM

About 4,000 bridges were destroyed or damaged and 50,000 miles of roads were damaged by the bombing in the Vietnam War. The U.S. dropped more bombs—measured in terms of tonnage—on Vietnam than the Allies dropped on Germany in World War II.

Vietnam needs more power plants and infrastructure. There are not many bridges. A 100 mile journey north of Hanoi can take four hours because it is necessary to cross rivers on ferries. Much work is being done to amend these shortcoming. Large bridges have been built pver the Mekong River. Hanoi is spending $1 billion on a harbor-dredging project.

Telephones - main lines in use: 10.175 million (2011), country comparison to the world: 21. Telephones - mobile cellular: 127.318 million (2011), country comparison to the world: 8. Telephone system: Vietnam is putting considerable effort into modernization and expansion of its telecommunication system. All provincial exchanges are digitalized and connected to Hanoi, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh City by fiber-optic cable or microwave radio relay networks. Main lines have been increased, and the use of mobile telephones is growing rapidly. As for international connections, Vietnam is a landing point for the SEA-ME-WE-3, the C2C, and Thailand-Vietnam-Hong Kong submarine cable systems. The Asia-America Gateway submarine cable system, completed in 2009, provided new access links to Asia and the US. Satellite earth stations: two Intersputnik (Indian Ocean region) (2011). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

1) Drinking water sources: A) Improved: urban: 99 percent of population; rural: 93 percent of population; total: 95 percent of population; B) Unimproved: urban: 1 percent of population; rural: 7 percent of population; total: 5 percent of population (2010 est.). 2) Sanitation facility access: A) improved: urban: 94 percent of population; rural: 68 percent of population; total: 76 percent of population. B) unimproved: urban: 6 percent of population; rural: 32 percent of population; total: 24 percent of population (2010 est.). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

See Dykes, Infrastructure, Bridges, Roads-Tunnels Vietnam War, History, See Education, Health Care, Roads, Transportation

The My Thuan Bridge is a relatively new new bridge over the Mekong River between Ny Tho and Vinh Long in southern Vietnam. Inaugurated in 2002, it was built with Australia donor funds and is over a mile long. This bridge has made it possible to travel from Ho Chi Minh City to the heart of the Mekong Delta without taking a ferry.

Dams in Vietnam, See Energy

Dykes in Vietnam

According to Vietnam-culture.com: “Control of the rivers has been crucial to the Vietnamese people’s hard-won ability to survive and thrive in a sometimes unforgiving land. The construction of dykes along rivers is without a doubt one of the most important steps in the emergence of the Vietnamese people. Throughout Vietnamese history, the dykes have played an important role in everyday life. Since ancient times, the mobilization of people to dyke construction sites helped build up the nation’s common identity. Agrarians saw the dykes as a matter of life and death, and as the protector of their crops - especially rice. [Source:Vietnam-culture.com vietnam-culture.com ><]

“The dykes were sometimes ascribed with the hard-working, intelligent, innovative and flexible characteristics of the Vietnamese. They reinforced the sense of community of the people that helped them fight foreign invaders, and regain independence after 1,000 years of feudal Chinese domination. They also created a new cultural space within which the Vietnamese village prospered. People who dared to move outside of the dyke to live were seen as having strong characters and unwilling to obey the village code and other restrictions. This idea has even been used to explain the observation that Vietnamese farmers in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta seem to be more outgoing than the more reserved people of the Hong (Red) River Delta. ><

“Each Vietnamese village has its own local culture, linked to the others by the roads built on top of the dykes. A Russian historian once wrote: "Vietnam has a wet paddy civilization attached to a dyke civilization. These two factors combined have a strength that has made Vietnamese culture endure time and history." When the dyke system fails the results can be disastrous. After the great flood of August 1971 overwhelmed the dyke system large sections of Vietnam were underwater. ><

History of Dykes in Vietnam

According to Vietnam-culture.com: “Before they built dykes, the Viet people had lived as hunters and collectors of wild fruits in hilly areas such as the present-day Phu Tho, Hoa Binh, Thanh Hoa provinces. There was a revolution in Vietnamese agriculture at the start of the Dong Dau (Bronze Age) and the Iron Age, when people discovered how to raise pigs, chickens, dogs and sticky rice. This was when rice became the chief staple of Vietnam, and came to be seen as a "totem." Even today, sticky rice is used as a key offering by the Vietnamese people in their ceremonies and worship practices. [Source:Vietnam-culture.com vietnam-culture.com ><]

“As their population increased, the Vietnamese people moved down to the plains of the Hong (Red) River Delta where conditions for agriculture were better. The delta offered more access to water from ponds, lakes and rivers, but also offered a major challenge in the form of irrigation and water management. They could only survive through proper water management and the cultivation of rice in wet paddies. The construction of dykes was a challenge beyond anything a single village or community could manage on its own. The ancient Vietnamese had to unite various tribes to construct dykes for their mutual benefit, and the most respected chief would be called vua (king). ><

“The history of the Vietnamese state can be traced back to those chiefs who knew how to unite people in the common cause of water control and defense against foreign invasions. The early people’s desire for control over the waters of the Hong River is reflected in the legend of Son Tinh and Thuy Tinh (Mountain Spirit and Water Spirit). The successful marriage of Son Tinh and the king’s daughter, My Nuong, demonstrates the success of the early attempts to conquer the natural flow of the waters. ><

“Dykes cannot simply be built and left alone; the skill was shared from one generation to another. As early as the 3rd Century B.C., foreigners visiting Vietnam noted the presence of huge dykes along its rivers. "The district of Phong Khe has dykes to hold back the water from the Long Mon [now Da] River," said Giao Chau Ky (The Report on Giao Chau - then the name of Vietnam). Later, the Han Thu (Documents of the Han) observed, "To the northwest of Long Bien district there are dykes to keep back the river water." ><

By the A.D. 9th Century, the historical record stated, "Cao Bien ordered the people to construct a dyke around the Dai La citadel with a total length of 8,500m and height of 8m." At the time, Hanoi was known as Dai La Citadel. When Ly Cong Uan took the throne in 1010, he became the first king of the Ly Dynasty - Vietnam’s first feudal dynasty. He ordered that the capital be moved from Hoa Lu to Dai La and renamed it Thang Long (now Hanoi), with the ambition of controlling the waters of the Hong River. In 1077, the Ly Dynasty ordered the construction of a 30km long dyke on the Nhu Nguyet River, now Cau River in the northern province of Bac Ninh.Twenty-six years later, the dynasty issued Vietnam’s first-ever decree on dyke construction. ><

As the Tran Dynasty replaced the Ly, the feudal courts not only continued to strengthen the river dykes system but also started the construction of coastal dykes. They appointed mandarins and officials called Ha De Chanh Pho Su (chief and deputy mandarins for dyke protection) to take care of the dykes. Under the Le Dynasty in 1664, King Le Huyen Tong issued a detailed regulation on dyke protection and the dykes were strenghtened with rocks. However, the Nguyen Dynasty could be the most ignorant period of dyke protection in the history of Vietnam. Throughout their reign, the Nguyen courts rarely invested in dyke construction and protection. The many poems from the period reveal that there were 18 dyke brakes under their rule in Hung Yen Province alone. ><

The reunification of Vietnam in 1975 led again to a united effort in dyke development. A department of dyke management was created in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The State issued the Decree on Dyke Protection and reinforced the existing system to a new level.

Shoddy Work and Man-Made Disasters in Vietnam

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “As communist Vietnam embraces consumerism and the middle-class dream, more citizens are questioning the shoddy construction and slapdash power system accompanying its headlong rush into the future and lamenting a lost sense of integrity. In April 2009, a 22-year-old woman was sitting in traffic on Au Co Street in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, when a power line fell on her. She died instantly. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, June 05, 2010]

See Railroad Accidents, Automobile Accidents, Air Accidents

Vietnamese Child Electrocuted by an ATM

In Ho Chi Minh City a 10-year-old girl died after touching an ATM, one of a number of electric shock victims. Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Chau Linh Uyen was playing in front of her primary school in Ho Chi Minh City two months ago when she touched a cash machine a few feet from the front gate. In a flash, as more than 100 volts coursed through her small body, the 10-year-old fourth-grader foamed at the mouth and lost consciousness. She died within minutes. The accident, caused by a state bank's ATM that wasn't properly grounded, was hardly a fluke. An investigation a few days later found that 121 of the city's 866 cash machines were leaking electricity through their keyboards and other surfaces, many at potentially fatal levels. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, June 05, 2010 ^/^]

"If you bring me these new gadgets related to modern life, that's supposed to mean everything is safe," said Chi Mai, a writer. "No one thought ATM machines would kill people. Suddenly you feel, 'Oh my God, this could happen to me.'" The girl's death is the latest in a string of fatal accidents. In August, a 13-year-old boy rode his bike through a puddle after a heavy rain here and was electrocuted by a faulty lamppost. And a month later, a 10-year-old boy was electrocuted while playing soccer in the rain near faulty underground municipal power lines. ^/^

“The government has promised to beef up safety standards in an effort to reduce what the Ministry of Industry and Trade estimates are 450 to 500 electrocution deaths each year. However, the deadly shocks don't seem to be diminishing the appetite for modern appliances.At the mammoth Nguyen Kim Electronics Superstore in the city center, electronics pulsate behind several giant "money god" statues on three floors as a legion of blue-vested clerks stalks customers. Nguyen Van Toan, 56, a garment factory engineer, stopped for a rest near the escalator, briefly stalled by sensory overload during his search for a 37-inch TV. "I've got a 29-inch model but need something bigger," he said. "Sure, I'm concerned about the electricity and the ATM case. But our house hasn't had any shocks yet, so basically life is pretty good." ^/^

The way Phan sees it, the ATM electrocution is a tragedy, but the real problem runs deeper: a corrupt system that isn't safeguarding its citizens or giving them enough voice in how society should be organized. "The ATM death, the boy in the puddle, these are symptoms of a system that isn't working," he said. For some, the answer lies in harsher penalties. "If businesspeople knew they faced bankruptcy and years in prison for deadly ATMs, they'd stop ignoring" these safety problems, said a student in Ho Chi Minh City. ^/^

“In some ways, the ATM case reflects how far Vietnam has and has not come, said Chuck Searcy, a representative of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and a Hanoi resident since 1995. On the one hand, the middle class is prosperous and proud of what it has accomplished, he said. At the same time, luxury apartment buildings are built with too much sand in the concrete and office towers have bricks missing. ^/^

“On a recent afternoon, a white sign on the Agribank ATM two doors down from the Nguyen Thai Binh Primary School said it was closed for maintenance. After the accident, a police investigation traced the problem to exposed wiring in a power cord jury-rigged by bank staff to run along a stairway. The head of Vietcombank's ATM department told Tuoi Tre newspaper that landlords often balk at letting ATM operators install grounding wires for reasons of cost or appearance, and that operators often cut one of the three prongs off foreign-made plugs so they fit into Vietnam's two-prong outlets, removing the grounding. ^/^

Dozen Killed in Vietnam Bridge Collapse

In September 2007, a suspension bridge under construction in Vietnam collapsed, killing dozens and injuring more than 100. The $343 million bridge, funded by a Japanese loan and constructed with help from Japanese companies, is due to be Vietnam's longest at 2,750 meters. Located in southern Vinh Long province, it was designed to replace the current ferry link across the Hau River, a tributary of the Mekong, and had been scheduled to open in 2008.

Kyodo reported: “At least 64 people have been confirmed dead after a Japanese-financed bridge under construction in Vietnam's Mekong Delta province of Can Tho collapsed morning, the state-run Vietnam News Agency reported. The report said still more people are believed to be trapped in the rubble of the bridge. It said some 180 injured people were still being treated by medical workers. The Saigon Times newspaper earlier reported a figure of at least 52 dead and about 70 others missing. [Source: Kyodo, September 27, 2007 ><]

About 250 workers and engineers were reportedly working on the bridge when a 90-meter-long span, which was part of the approach road, collapsed, VNA reported. Construction of the Cuu Long (Mekong) Bridge, popularly known as the Can Tho Bridge, began in 2004 and was slated for completion in 2008 It involves a consortium of Japanese contractors comprising Taisei Corp., Kajima Corp. and Nippon Steel Corp., under the supervision of consultant Nippon Koei-Chodai. ><

The bridge is being constructed over the Hau River, a branch of the lower Mekong River, and links Can Tho with Vinh Long Province. The project has been financed by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation through 24.84 billion yen in official development assistance loans. Once completed, the bridge is to be the longest cable-stayed bridge in the Mekong Delta, with a total length of 2.75 kilometers and a four-lane carriageway 26 meters wide. ><

The Guardian reported: “At least 200 people were working on the giant structure when a 100-meter section buckled around 8am local time. The four-lane road bridge was being built over the Hau river in the southern city of Can Tho, around 105 miles south of Ho Chi Minh City. Le Viet Hung, of Can Tho police, said rescue teams using heavy equipment were digging through the rubble in search of survivors. "It was total chaos," he added. "It sounded like a huge explosion. It's the biggest accident I've ever seen." "I expect the death toll to rise, as there are still victims trapped under the concrete," Dang Van Tam, the director of the Central Can Tho general hospital, said. Hre said the hospital had "never had this many patients", adding that extra surgeons had been drafted in from Ho Chi Minh City.[Source: Fred Attewill and agencies, The Guardian, September 26, 2007]

Blame and Causes of the Vietnam Bridge Collapse

After an official investigation was launched into the cause of the collapse, officials said cement had been poured into the buckled section the day before. Kyodo reported: “Initial reports said the cause of the accident might be traced back to the weak support frame system. Workers had been pouring concrete over that section for the last several days, VNA reported. The Saigon Times cited online newspaper reports quoting Can Tho officials as saying heavy rain in the past few days might have caused the foundation to weaken, leading to the collapse of scaffolding under the collapsed span.[Source: Kyodo, September 27, 2007 ><]

Saibal Dasgupta wrote in Engineering News, “Investigators are trying to determine whether a Japanese contractor consortium or designers associated with the transport ministry of Vietnam were to blame for the fatal Sept. 26 collapse of the 100-meter span of the Can Tho cable-stayed bridge under construction. Taisei-Kajima-Nippon Steel (TKN), the joint venture contractor for the 2.75-km-long suspension bridge, may find it difficult to escape severe censure from the governments of both Vietnam and Japan if found culpable. Evidence is emerging that the company may have ignored warnings about weakness in the scaffolding of the structure. [Source: Saibal Dasgupta, Engineering News, October 2, 2007 |+|]

“The consortium of Taisei Corp., Kajima Corp., and Nippon Steel Corp., with consultant Nippon Koei-Chodai, began work in 2004.Vietnam's Transport Minister Ho Nghia Dung, facing pressures to quit following the disaster, announced he was prepared to give up office if investigations showed his ministry was to blame for it. But he was confident that the investigations would turn up evidence to implicate the contractors, sources say. |+|

Pham Quy Ngo, an official of the Ministry of Public Security, who has been appointed chief investigator into the accident, refused to discuss what evidence has surfaced so far. Both the Japanese government and the contractor have apologized to the families of the victims. What might help save face for TKN is the suspicion that the designers may have failed to accurately calculate the load-bearing capacity of the pylons during the hours when the concrete was wet and did not set – which is when the accident took place, sources said. |+|

However, the Vietnamese media published a memo written on June 27 by structural specialist Hiroshi Kudo, in which he urged the TKN consortium to "reinforce immediately" the scaffolding and other support for the bridge. Chu Ngoc Sung, an expert at the Hanoi Sciences and Techniques Association, says a section of bracing had broken and brought down everything with it. Different voices have emerged from the Vietnamese government. Nguyen Ngoc Long, director of the official Work Quality Assessment and Management, has blamed the contractor for poor supervision. Nguyen Van Cong of the Ministry of Communications and Transportation has said heavy rain on an earlier night had softened the earth, causing the pylons to settle and tear down the bracing for the freshly poured spans. |+|

At Least 21 Dead in Vietnam Fireworks Factory Explosion

AFP reported: “At least 21 people have died and scores more have been injured in an explosion at a fireworks factory in a military complex in northern Vietnam, an army official said Saturday. Plumes of black smoke billowed from the Z121 military facility, around 120 kilometers north of Hanoi, as fireworks exploded uncontrollably for several hours, witnesses said. “Twenty-one people are dead and 98 others are injured, most of them have sustained burns,” a military rescue official told AFP by phone, requesting anonymity and raising an earlier toll of seven dead. [Source: Agence France-Presse, October 12, 2013]

The explosion prompted the evacuation of some 2,000 people living near the area. “The fire has now been brought under control,” a police official in Phu Tho province told AFP, adding that an investigation into the cause of the accident had been opened. “The first blast was at 7:55 a.m., and then there were continuous explosions for some hours,” Phi Xuan Trung, chairman of the local Khai Xuan commune, was told the VNExpress news site. “There was a strong smell of gunpowder, the ground was shaking many kilometres away,” he added.

Residents in Thanh Ba district, where the complex is located, also said they felt the ground shake during the powerful repeated explosions. “After the first explosion, my house was shaking and the door smashed open,” eye witness Nguyen Nhu Quynh told VNExpress. Loudspeakers urged people within 15 kilometers of the military facility to leave the area. One local resident told AFP that locals have fled to the Viet Tri township, about 40 kilometres away. “We have received warnings from authorities that there could be further explosions which could be very destructive,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In 2010, fireworks being prepared at Hanoi’s My Dinh stadium for use in the city’s 1,000th anniversary celebrations exploded, killing three foreigners and one Vietnamese national.

Ho Chi Minh City ITC Inferno

On October 29, 2002, 60 people died and more than a 100 were injured when a fire tore through a commercial office building used by foreign company offices and a popular disco in Ho Chi Minh City. The fire originated in the disco. There are reports that there were about 1500 people shopping in the building when the fire started at 1:15 p.m. local time on a Tuesday. Fire fighters took half an hour to arrive on the scene. They were unable to enter the building for four hours because of the extreme heat. People on the upper floors of the six-story building died because the fire department didn’t have equipment that could reach them. The disaster occurred around the same time as the 2002 Bali bombing and was one of the deadliest peacetime disasters in Vietnam. It occurred at the International Trade Center in Ho Chi Minh City, the commercial center of the country.

Richard J. Vogel of Associated Press wrote: “A massive blaze tore through a large building in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, killing at least 59 people. Rescuers searched frantically following the blaze for dozens of people believed still trapped inside the six-story building, where a wedding reception with more than 500 guests had been taking place. An American insurance company with offices there was also conducting a training seminar for about 100 employees when the fire erupted. Six staff members of the American International Assurance Co. were still missing, a company official said. [Source: Richard J. Vogel, Associated Press, October 30, 2002 <>]

Ho Chi Minh City Mayor Le Thanh Hai said the fire was the city's worst in both loss of life and property damage. At least 59 people, including two unidentified Britons, were confirmed dead. Hospital officials said more than 100 people were hospitalized, many with serious injuries - some from burns and some from jumping out the building's windows. An official of Military Hospital 175 said the facility had received 46 bodies, many burned beyond recognition. Only 10 had been identified, he said. State-run Vietnam Television reported Wednesday that 100 body bags were needed. <>

"There are still no clear figures of dead, missing or injured, but the loss of life could be very big," the television said. But the Lao Dong (Labor) newspaper quoted firefighter Nguyen Van Quy as saying: "We have counted about 100 bodies at various floors of the trading center, including one of a foreigner." Other state media gave a similar estimate Wednesday. Several hundred weeping relatives anxiously waited outside a hospital mortuary. "Our whole family has gone to many hospitals around the city since Tuesday trying to find my sister, who was inside the building, but no luck so far," said Tran Thi Thanh Tuyen. The American International Assurance Co. was conducting a training program for insurance agents when the fire began, said a company official who identified herself only as Tien. Six staff members were missing and about 30 were injured, some seriously, she said. "A bell rang, and then the electricity cut off," Tien said. "The fire came very fast." <>

Police were still investigating the cause of the fire, but suspected a gas leak on the second floor, city culture and ideology chief Pham Phuong Thao said. But the Vietnam News Agency said an electrical short circuit was suspected. Police also said they suspected it started in the Blue Disco, the city's most popular dance spot. Thao said all entertainment activities would be suspended in the city for three days to honor the dead. <>

Initial reports indicated it may have been sparked by a short-circuit in the Blue Disco, one of the city's most popular dance spots, on the building's second floor. Two welders were later arrested. They had been working at the disco on the second floor, and it was suspected that sparks from their equipment may have started the blaze. Along with their supervisor and their employer, they were charged with "violating regulations of fire prevention and combating", and received sentences of 2 to 7 years in prison. [Source: Wikipedia]

Battling the Ho Chi Minh City ITC Fire

Intense heat and lingering flames prevented firefighters from entering the building for about four hours with firefighters taking more than five hours to extinguish the inferno. Richard J. Vogel of Associated Press wrote: “ Firefighters battled the inferno for hours, but the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper said inadequate equipment and intense flames and heat kept them from reaching many victims inside the Saigon International Trade Center, which housed shops, a luxurious department store, offices of foreign firms, and a popular dance club. [Source: Richard J. Vogel, Associated Press, October 30, 2002 <>]

“Firefighters used ladder trucks to help some people escape from the roof but they were unable to reach at least one man who cried for help from a window because they lacked the proper equipment. Flames raged at other windows. "What is worrying is that firefighters were not equipped with the necessary equipment to put out the fire," Vietnam Television said. "It took them more than three hours to bring the water hose inside the building, and sometimes they did not have enough water." Smoke lingered over the crowded neighborhood Tuesday evening and much of the building remained too hot to enter. Firefighters sprayed water onto the sizzling debris, hoping temperatures would cool enough for them to go inside. <>

About 30 fire engines and 40 ambulances surrounded the building. The Vietnam People's Army reported that firefighters were not fully equipped to fight the fire and lacked water to put out the flames. Power in the area was cut off and streets cordoned off. Flames raged at other windows sending dense black smoke into the sky as workers fled for their lives, many down steel ladders reaching up from fire trucks below. Others jumped out of the windows. [Source: Wikipedia]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

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