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24/11/2020 - 15:27

Heavy hearts for Rao Trang

Being at the "frontline" of Rao Trang, we can see how the rescue forces and people here are "fighting together" with Rao Trang, determined to search and bring the missing victims back to their families...

Provincial Party Secretary Le Truong Luu at Rao Trang 3 to direct the rescue work

Facing danger

After nearly half a month of rescue with dozens of trips back and forth to Rao Trang 3 hydropower plant (Phong Xuan, Phong Dien) by water, Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thanh Tuan, Deputy Head of Traffic Police Department (Traffic Police), Provincial Police Department, still remembers clearly the first trip on the Rao Trang river on the afternoon of October 13 (one day after a landslide) to get the first information back to the functional forces implementing rescue work.

Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thanh Tuan said, on the afternoon of October 13, after receiving orders from his superiors, it was necessary to approach Rao Trang 3 and 4 hydropower plants to get information about the number of people in distress, the number of survivors trapped and the food of the remaining workers in these hydropower plants. The team consisted of 9 officers and soldiers belonging to the traffic police and the firefighting and rescue forces of the Provincial Police Department, departing by 2 canoes from the boat station of Huong Binh commune (Huong Tra). The lake bed area of Huong Dien hydropower plant up to Rao Trang River area is crammed with streams, turns and precarious reefs.

Before leaving, the provincial police leaders told the team: “Take into account the actual situation before deciding whether or not to approach the hydropower area. Getting information must be fast and accurate to make the first decisions for rescue efforts. And, you must return before dark to ensure the safety of the team.”

Senior Lieutenant Colonel Tuan's team had local volunteers of people living near the lake-bed area to be a "pilot" when deploying the mission of the waterway. However, when the two canoes reached the Rao Trang River near Rao Trang 4 hydropower plant and the section where the O creek intersects (this creek flows from sub-area 67, intersecting with Rao Trang River), there was fast flowing water from the ravine.

Rao Trang River in rainy days also became extremely fierce. In just a moment, the two canoes were like "two leaves" floating in the swirling water. One of the crew shouted loudly: Calm down, hold on to the canoes. The driver immediately slipped the canoe into the river bank about 200m away.

Rescue teams approaching Rao Trang 3

Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thanh Tuan continued: “At that time there was no information and we could not contact the investor of Rao Trang 4 hydropower plant, so we did not know that the hydropower plant was discharging flood water. The team determined that they could not go on by boat because of the fast flowing water, so they went on on foot. After sending two soldiers to stay and guard the canoes, with the support of the local people, we cut across the forest to find Route 71 and met the workers trapped in the hydropower plant area. 17 people were missing and the food supply for workers could only last for 1 more day…”

The rescue team requested the investor to close the hydroelectric dam for 30 minutes for the team to withdraw by water. However, when going back to the river bank, the drop of water level (due to dam closing) swept the 2 canoes to the other side of Rao Trang River and pushed it ashore, stranded on the rock rapids.

Thanks to the help of the local people, hydroelectric workers, the group was able to push the canoe down the river bed to continue the journey. When it got dark - the Rao Trang River became more mysterious and dangerous with reefs that could cause the boat to overturn at any time. Thanks to the "pilot" who was a fisherman in the area, the group was able to come back safely.

“Despite the difficulties and dangers, we were still determined to obtain information. Fortunately, our team received a lot of help from the local people to complete the task in order to implement rescue work later,” said Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thanh Tuan.

The rescue force not only received support and assistance of the local people in Rao Trang River area, but also received valuable information from people who forage the forest about the suspected body of the victims in this river.

Race against time

Immediately after successfully directing the 16th Provincial Party Committee Congress, term 2020-2025, Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee Le Truong Luu was present at the scene of a landslide caused by floods at Rao Trang 3 hydropower plant to continue directing rescue work. When they arrived at the gathering point at the boat station of Huong Binh commune to start the search team by waterway to Rao Trang 3, the rather hasty handshake, encouragement, and instructions to the rescue forces of the Provincial Party Committee Secretary showed the province's determination to find the missing victims.

“The work is very urgent. We need to quickly bring all the missing victims back to their families because the current weather is very complicated. But the rescue work must absolutely ensure safety and not be careless," the Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee noted.

Rao Trang 3 crumbled after the landslide

Overcoming the rapids, our canoe leaped up and down, steering clear of reefs in Rao Trang River which were signaled with sharp stakes. Finally, we made it to Rao Trang 4 hydropower plant. From here to Rao Trang 3, we must travel by road following the only route - road 71.

The continuous flood and rain for nearly half a month had made the terrain more dangerous here with dozens of points at risk of further landslides. The road was eroded, with one side the high mountain, and the other side a deep abyss. 

After many ceaseless efforts of traffic police, engineer soldiers... route 71 connecting Phong Xuan commune to Rao Trang 3 was opened. Even so, the potential for further erosion was very high.

Stopping at Km27 + 800 (about 8km from Rao Trang 3 hydropower plant), Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee Le Truong Luu quickly discussed with the traffic industry experts to deal with the landslide and clear the road here. This area on the roadbed had many large rocks. They were split into small pieces by the engineer force and leveled to the sides of the road. Motorized vehicles could go up to perform rescue mission at Rao Trang 3.

However, the current roadbed was very weak, with dense mud. From the side of the mountain, large rocks and soil were ready to fall at any time. Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee Le Truong Luu asked the investor to coordinate with the Department of Transport to research and choose the most optimal plan to handle the large volume of rock and soil that could slide down to road 71 at any moment. In the days afterwards, it was forecasted that rain in the province can cause landslides, blocking route 71 and hindering rescue forces.

Reaching Rao Trang 3 hydropower plant where 12/17 workers were still missing, we could truly witness the desolate ruin caused by the destruction of the landslide. Thousands of blocks of dirt and rock collapsed from the hillside, burying the operation house and workers' tents. A system of concrete embankments weighing of tons was swept away and pushed from the hill to the other side of the stream.

Over the past several days, the engineering and police forces have released a lot of soil and rock and found 5 victims in this area. The forces divided into 3 teams using motorized means and sniffer dogs to continue searching for victims. The search is concentrating on 3 points: in the area close to the bank of Rao Trang River, the top of the landslide area of the operating house and the workers’ camp.

Mr. Nguyen Xuan Thanh, worker of Rao Trang 3 hydropower plant, said through a choked voice: “Now we just pray for favorable weather, creating conditions for the rescue team to find more workers. For nearly half a month, the workers of the army and the police have worked very hard. The local people have also supported a lot in packing goods and giving directions. All of us are trying to not disappoint the wishes of the victims’ relatives ”.

Story and photos: Khanh Nhan Phong

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