A hydropower dam in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai broke again on Friday morning causing a flash flood that claimed more than 100 hectares of farmland.
Ia Krel 2, whose shoddy construction was blamed for an ugly breach in June of 2013 once again wreaked havoc on the livelihoods of farmers down the namesake stream in Ia Dom Commune, Duc Co District.
The resulting floodwaters stretched as far as ten kilometers from the dam, swallowing rice, cassava and other fields downstream last Friday afternoon.
The breach also uprooted upstream trees and sent them cascading down into the damage compounding the mess, according to the paper's account of the damage.
Dang Thi Kim Dung, a commune local, said her family had just started plowing their field near the foot of the dam when they heard loud rumblings overhead.
“We looked up and trees were cascading down on us. It only took a few minutes for the water to rush over us like a bombing run. I had just enough time to climb a high tree where I waited to be rescued,” Dung told Tuoi Tre.
Dang Van Yen, Dung’s brother who was with her at the time, said the Ia Krel stream was normally very narrow and they crossed it every day to go to their fields.
“But during the breach, the water was just out of control. People around us fled wildly. We’ve never experienced anything so terrible,” Yen said.
Vo Thanh Hung, the district chairman, said border guards and police officers quickly arrived at the scene and commenced rescue operations.
But everything, including farmers’ tents, was submerged by the time they arrived, Hung said.
They could not sail a boat to approach Dung as she was surrounded by fallen trees and rough water. Three rescuers had to put on life jackets and built a raft to get to her.
"The water was just out of control. People around us fled wildly. We’ve never experienced anything so terrible" -- Dang Van Yen, a farmer in Gia Lai Province describing Friday's dam breach
Hung said the waters claimed at least 28 farmers’ tents, 60 hectares of planted fields, and dozens of hectares rubber orchards owned by a local military unit.
He said they had managed to reduce the damage and prevent casualties as the authorities began to evacuate people after discovering cracks in the dam soon before the breach.
After a site visit on Friday, Hoang Cong Lu, vice chairman of the province, told a Tuoi Tre reporter that the district has filed an urgent notice to the Prime Minister and called on relevant agencies to reinspect the dam.
“The breach caused heavy damage for many downstream families… This dam just broke last year, and has done a great deal of harm all over again,” Lu said.
Ia Krel 2 dam was designed to contain 8-10 million cubic meters of water. Construction started in 2009 and the dam was scheduled to begin generating 5.5 megawatts in 2013.
The flood waters ripped through the concrete and exposed the dam's interior iron frame.
Nguyen Ngoc An, deputy director of Bao Long Gia Lai Hydropower and Industry JSC which invested in the dam, told Tuoi Tre that his company had urged people to move after noticing cracks in the dam at around 8am.
“We couldn't have foreseen this development,” he said.
An said the disaster started with breach in a cofferdam 200 meters away while the company was still trying to reinforce the main dam against damage caused during last year’s breach.
Huynh Ngoc Tuc, director of Gia Lai’s Department of Industry and Trade, said the reservoir contained a safe level of water when the breach occurred.
Tuc said the department will look into the investor’s responsibility, but said the past breach was attributed to heavy rains that swelled the reservoir beyond the dam's capacity.
Gia Lai's provincial government only allowed Bao Long to resume construction of the plant in June. After last year's accident, poor construction quality was blamed and it turned out the company hadn't won approval to build it.
Last year, the company paid 121 affected families and two organizations nearly VND3 billion (US$141,500) in compensation.
Hydropower plants in Vietnam fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, but small dams (defined as those with a capacity of less than 30 MW) are managed by the local authorities.
Deputy PM Hoang Trung Hai said small dams have become a matter of great concern since their management tends to be loose.
Two small dams in the central region broke in late 2012, killing a truck driver.
That same year, provinces in the central region started to cancel a number of small dams.
They determined that such dams don't offer much benefit, but cause as much damage environmental and agricultural damage as large-scale projects.
The central region has the highest number of power-producing dams (118 finished and 75 under construction) in a country that relies on hydropower for up to 40 percent of its electricity.