Dam quakes hit Vietnam's impoverished central district, again

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Song Tranh 2 dam in Quang Nam Province which has been a topic of scare to locals as tremors increasingly occured after it came into operation in the end of 2010. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre Song Tranh 2 dam in Quang Nam Province which has been a topic of scare to locals as tremors increasingly occured after it came into operation in the end of 2010. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre

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The area around a major hydropower plant in central Vietnam, which was plagued by earthquakes, is rumbling again after a year's reprieve.
Seven earthquakes have been reported around the Song Tranh 2 Dam in Bac Tra My District, Quang Nam Province this month, threatening all efforts to calm a jittery population that enjoyed peace for almost a year.
Four quakes occurred in a single week, including the latest of 2.5 magnitude which hit early on Sunday--a day after another of 2.7 magnitude quake.
Two quakes, spaced a minute apart, hit after midnight on June 30, one of 2.6 magnitude and the other 1.7, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported.
Ho Van Loi, chairman of Tra Doc Commune in the district, said the floor of his home shook like someone rocking a hammock.
“We ran out, and ran in and we hadn't even put ourselves together when another quake came. People were startled and could only run again,” he told the newspaper.
In the afternoon of June 12, a 2.5 magnitude quake also shook the area only two minutes after a 2.7-magnitude, both from around five kilometers.
On June 8, a 2.9 level quake set off explosion sounds and lasted for nearly ten seconds.
Nguyen Van Thanh, 52, who lives at the foot of the dam, said the tremors have been more continuous this year and have already scared off locals.
Thanh said one quake occurred while he was fishing on a nearby lake.
“There was a sudden smell of sulfur that hurt my head. And violent shakes. The water was shaking, causing the boat to pitch,” he told Tuoi Tre.
Some people living outside the district, dozens of kilometers from the dam, said they also felt the tremors.
“I don’t know what the experts say. With the area continuously shaking like this, everyone is worried."                                      -- Ho Va Loi, a commune chairman in Quang Nam Province
The authorities have returned to their campaign to reassure the residents of their safety, but they are not confident that the people can be calmed.
Loi told Tuoi Tre that many of the locals who left last year haven't come back and those who remain won't stay for long.
Campaigns to bring people back will come to nothing, he said.
Bac Tra My District reported 66 earthquakes between the year 1715 and November 2012.
The quakes began in earnest after the Song Tranh 2 dam began operation at the end of 2010.
Twenty-five quakes were reported between October 3 and December 16 in 2012 alone.
The dam left the local population with little land to farm and almost no running water. What's worse, the constant quakes have left them in no mood to work.
Geologists visiting the area said the quakes were “normal." 
The scientists claimed that the dam's reservoir had exerted increased pressure on the earth’s surface and had probably trickled into the fault lines that the dam was built on, triggering seismic activity.
They said the quakes don't pose significant danger and wouldn't collapse the dam and wipe out the area.

Two women express concern about the tremors around Song Tranh 2 this month, though they live more than ten kilometers away. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre
But Loi said: “I don’t know what the experts say. With the area continuously shaking like this, everyone is worried.”
Nguyen Nhuan, vice chairman of Bac Tra My District, also said that although people living near the dam have been asked to try to maintain their normal business, “they're still worried.”
Nhuan said the district has asked the state power monopoly Electricity of Vietnam -- which owns the VND4.15-trillion (US$197.53 million) dam -- to provide more food subsidies to the vulnerable families in the coming months.
In late 2012, EVN paid VND3.5 billion ($168,000) in compensation for homes, buildings, local roads and pipelines damaged by the quakes.
The dam also made national news when cracks developed in early 2012 -- though they were fixed several months later -- and excess water released without enough advanced notice exacerbated floods in November 2011 that killed 24 people.
With a designed output of 190 megawatt, the dam is the biggest in the central region, which has the highest number of hydropower dams (118 finished and 75 under construction) in a country that relies on hydropower for up to 40 percent of its electricity.

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