Dam-related quake sparks panic in central Vietnam

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People in Quang Ngai are out of their homes after a 4.7-magnitude earthquake hit the province Thursday

A 4.7-magnitude earthquake, the largest yet of the hundreds to hit Quang Nam since a giant dam was built last year, shook the central province Thursday.

The Vietnam Institute of Geophysics said the quake at 2:24 p.m. had its epicenter in Bac Tra My District, which is home to Song Tranh 2, the biggest hydropower dam in the central region and the possible cause of the tremors since it is built on a fault line.

The previous largest quake of 4.6 magnitude had hit the district in October.

The institute said the latest tremor is the second most massive recorded in the district after one of 4.8 magnitude in 1957.

Tuoi Tre newspaper reported that many houses developed cracks soon after the quake.

A local called Tuoi Tre and said the tremor lasted more than seven seconds, and thousands of people streamed out of their houses in panic.

The tremors were felt across Quang Nam and, around five minutes later, in nearby Quang Ngai Province.

Ho Van Lap, a commune official in Quang Ngai, said he was sitting in his room when he felt things, including the furniture, shake.

Similar tremors had been felt on October 22 when the 4.6-magnitude earthquake struck, he recalled.

Do Minh Lam, a district deputy head of Quang Ngai, said the strongest tremors were felt in areas near Bac Tra My.

"People are very scared," he said.

The dam had developed cracks last March and they were fixed only in August.

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Local officials and National Assembly members have called for closing down the dam to ensure people's safety.

But state-owned Electricity of Vietnam, which owns the VND4.15-trillion ($197.53 million) dam, is not even considering the option.

Experts have said the dam can survive quakes of up to 5.5 magnitude, but warned its water pressure can trigger off a 6.1 quake.

Foreign experts studied the dam earlier this month, but have not submitted their conclusions yet.

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