Between a sinkhole and a soft place

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Two died recently as a result of poor construction and site management. Meanwhile, experts worry that Ho Chi Minh City's rapid urbanization will lead the city to collapse on itself

A container truck tumbled onto the street while driving down Hoang Dieu 2 Street in Thu Duc District on Tuesday (October 12) after a section of road collapsed three meters into the ground

Two people were killed in separate accidents related to poor sewer coverage last week in Ho Chi Minh City.

On Sunday (October 10), 53- year-old Vu Hong Thai, a security guard for a private real estate company in District 2, drowned in a manhole on Thu Duc District's To Ngoc Van Street.

His brother-in-law, Vo Ai Quoc, told the Lao Dong (Labor) newspaper that Thai was on his way to work when he decided to head back home, due to heavy rain and severe flooding. The man and his bike were wading along a flooded sidewalk when he fell into an open sewer and drowned.

Due to the rushing water, passers-by were unable to rescue the victim and his body was only salvaged half an hour after the incident, witnesses said.

A day earlier, a 42-year-old woman was killed in a traffic accident in Thu Duc District's Kha Van Can Street when she fell off her motorbike after running into a shoddily-constructed sewer cover. She was then crushed by a passing truck. The victim, Ha Thi Tuyet Mai, was taking her son back from school. Luckily, the boy survived.

A number of similar death traps have been discovered on streets around the city after contractors working on a citywide sewerage project failed to properly cover the street following sewer excavations. Thanh Nien found dozens of manholes on Nguyen Van Luong Street in District 6 which jutted ten centimeters out of the street.


October 10: A car fell into a sinkhole caused by shoddy construction work at a crossroads between Vo Thi Sau and Hai Ba Trung streets in District 1

October 8: A large hole appears on a section of Hai Ba Trung Street near Kieu Bridge in District 1.

October 7: A two-meter wide hole appeared on Phan Van Tri Street in Binh Thanh District.

October 5: A section of Binh Thanh District's Le Quang Dinh Street swelled abnormally, threatening traffic safety.

September 14: A seven-seater taxi fell into a three-meter-deep and fourmeter-wide hole on Le Van Sy Street in District 3.

September 13: A hole one meter deep and two meters wide appeared on Vo Van Van Street in Binh Chanh District.

August 28: A hole three meters deep and six meters wide appeared in an alley off Le Van Sy Street in District 3.

Meanwhile, city agencies are scrambling to pass the buck.

Do Tan Long, an official at the HCMC Anti-flood Program Management Center [which manages the drainage system on Kha Van Can Street] said his agency would have been responsible for the death of Mai, the female victim, if the manhole had been left uncovered. He shifted the blame on the municipal drainage company who invested in the drainage system.

In Thai's case which occurred last Sunday, the sewage system is managed by the Saigon Railway Company. Le Hong Phuc, the company's deputy director, accepted that his company is in charge of maintaining and managing the manhole Thai died in. But Phuc stressed that the accident was merely an "unfortunate case" and the company is not responsible.

Lawyer Phan Trung Hoai of the HCMC Bar Association, said involved agencies can't shift the blame onto each other. He advised police to conduct a thorough investigation into all involved parties from the project investors down to the local authorities.

Dangerous streets

On Tuesday a container truck tumbled onto the street while driving down Hoang Dieu 2 Street in Thu Duc District after a section of road collapsed three meters into the ground. Luckily, the driver suffered only minor injuries and no one else was hurt in the incident.

At least eight similar sinkholes have emerged in recent months causing numerous traffic accidents, the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported.

Phan Phung Sanh, vice chairman of the HCMC Association for Construction Science and Technology, attributed the accidents to sloppy paving following excavations that were carried out as part of the massive sewer project.

"They have dug more than ten meters deep," Sanh said. "If the refilling process was not properly executed, the street will collapse under the weight of traffic."

Tran The Ky, deputy director of the HCMC Transport Department, admitted that contractors had not properly repaved the streets.

"It is clearly that the contractors that are responsible," he told Tuoi Tre. "They have to compensate the victims of these accidents and take responsibility as the laws require."

He also said his department would call a meeting of all the concerned parties soon to demand strict supervision of street construction.

"The investor and contract supervisors are responsible for preventing street collapses," he said.


Rapid urbanization and improper zoning have led to widespread sinkage and flooding in Ho Chi Minh City, scientists said.

Dr. Le Van Trung, director of the Geomatics Center at the Vietnam National UniversityHCMC, said the sinkage began damaging traffic infrastructure and buildings years ago. In 2003, sinkage damaged 42 homes in Hoc Mon District. A year later, 30 sinkholes appeared in a four-hectare section of District 9.

The sinking also struck the outlying districts of Binh Tan, Binh Chanh and Nha Be. Evidence of sinking in Binh Tan District became glaring when tubewells in the Tan Tao Industrial Park were found jutting 30 centimeters out of the ground.

Trung attributed the sinking to rapid urbanization of the city, the exhaustion of underground water resources and the development of concrete structures on the surface.

Hoang Ngoc Ky, who holds a PhD in geology, said that a layer of sediment 30 to 40 meters deep forms the weak bedrock of HCMC.

Meanwhile, Dr. Le Huy Ba of the Institute of Science, Technology and Environment Management blamed poor zoning for serious floods and sinkage. He said the areas in District 7, Can Gio and Nha Be districts have weak foundations and low altitude but were still included in the city zoning plan.

"A moderate rise in the sea level would flood Nha Be District's Hiep Phuoc Commune and District 7. The construction of Hiep Phuoc Urban Zone and expansion of Phu My Hung would worsen the sinking and flooding. Meanwhile, the urbanization of District 2 will change the course of the [Saigon] River toward District 1."

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