Dam control: Ministry visits Vietnam province after latest quake

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Vietnam's construction minister led a group of officials to help build earthquake-safe houses in the central province of Quang Nam Wednesday, one week after a dam-related tremor registered 4.7 on the Richter scale.

News website Dan Tri reported minister Trinh Dinh Dung and building quality inspectors, housing and real estate market managers, and construction technique experts will stay in the province for one week.

The visit followed reports about locals' homes having more cracks after the quake on November 15, the biggest of hundreds since construction was completed on the Song Tranh 2 hydropower dam late last year.

Panic spread beyond the province as the tremor was felt as far away as in nearby Quang Ngai Province.

Song Tranh 2, the biggest hydropower plant in the central region, was built on a fault line in Bac Tra My District.

Local officials will help residents repair damaged buildings, as well as build new ones that designed to survive earthquakes. Song Tranh 2 has been blamed for all the area's recent earthquakes.

Figures as of November 6 showed that 856 houses and eight public buildings had cracked or sunk as a result of the quakes, forcing hundreds of families to abandon their homes and move into tents or makeshift wooden houses.

The state-owned monopoly Electricity of Vietnam, which owns the VND4.15-trillion (US$197.53 million) dam, has given VND3.5 billion ($168,000) that the province requested to repair damaged buildings.

But ministry officials said they will assess the damage again and then suggest further solutions if necessary.

Vote of no confidence

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The ministry visit aims to formulate a precise analysis of the situation to report to the government.

But leaders of Bac Tra My District said they have lost faith in the central government.

Tran Anh Tuan, vice chairman of the district, said at a provincial meeting on Tuesday that the district is not interested in meeting officials from the central government, calling it a waste of time.

"Various delegations have come after each big earthquake. But they have not managed to solve anything, while the earthquakes are just getting stronger," Tien Phong newspaper quoted Tuan as saying.

"From now on, our district will save the time previously allotted to greeting those officials to solve our own problems ourselves."

Local officials and National Assembly members have called for shutting down the dam to ensure public safety.

But state-owned Electricity of Vietnam is not considering that option.

Experts have said the dam itself can survive quakes of up to magnitudes of 5.5, but warned the water pressure it creates could trigger a 6.1 magnitude quake.

Tuan said Song Tranh 2 dam has been a disaster since its inception, as the many people who were displaced for the dam now lead extremely hard lives.

He said they were given little land for cultivation. They don't have access to clean water and that many have had to abandon houses given to them because they have been damaged by dam-related erosion.

People displaced for many other dam projects in the province are facing similar predicaments.

Quang Nam Province has the largest number of hydropower plants in the province which take up more than 5,700 hectares, including 2,000 hectares of farmland, the construction of which caused 3,519 families to be relocated.

The province had planned to build 44 hydropower plants. It recently suspended work on 17 and canceled plans to build two others, citing diminishing returns. Seven plants are currently operating and eight are under construction.

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