Hanoi residents face uncertain future after century-old villa collapses

Thanh Nien News

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Rescuers check the rubble after a villa collapsed in Hanoi on September 22, 2015. Photo: Ngoc Thang Rescuers check the rubble after a villa collapsed in Hanoi on September 22, 2015. Photo: Ngoc Thang


As workers in downtown Hanoi begin to clean up the wreckage of a century-old villa that collapsed on Tuesday afternoon, it hits many survivors that they have lost almost everything to a tragedy that could have been prevented. 
The villa’s main block crashed down, sending large chunks of the walls onto other houses and a makeshift market nearby. 
An official from Hoan Kiem District has confirmed at least two women were killed, both vendors at the market.
Six other people are being treated for broken bones and brain injuries.
Locals said the list of victims could have been longer if the incident had happened in the morning, when the market is usually crowded.
The old villa at 107 Tran Hung Dao Street was built by the French in 1905 and is now servicing as an office for Vietnam Railways.
The roof of the villa started leaking after heavy rain in the morning. 
An employee of the company reportedly found some cracks on the walls at around 12:30 p.m. 
All employees evacuated the villa after it began shaking. Most other employees had already left for lunch. 
Soon after that, the house tumbled down. 
Ngo Van Manh, whose office is opposite the villa, said: “I felt the ground shaking strongly. I looked over and the main block went down in the blink of an eye.”
Manh said he and other people managed to pull out five people from the rubble after the collapse.
“They were all covered in blood and were in shock, with either broken arms or legs.”
People wait for the rescue efforts until late at night. Photo credit: VnExpress
Nguyen Thi Thu said she was lucky as she left her house seconds before it was smashed in the collapse.
“The noise was like a bomb explosion. Smoke and dust were all over the sky and dozens of people were running in chaos,” Thu told VnExpress. Her house was completely buried in the rubble. 
Many people like Thu have managed to save themselves but are now worried about how they will live the coming days.
Some now did not even have their shoes on when they ran out of their houses.
A woman cries after she managed to grab her baby and ran out of her house. Photo credit: VnExpress
Dao Thi Huong, 53, said she came from Hung Yen and has been selling noodle soup for nearly 20 years at a rented house near the villa. 
Now that her small shop has been destroyed, she is not confident that she can afford to rebuild it. 
"I'm just too old to start anything new now."
She said residents in the area had been told that they would be relocated at the end of this year, away from the old and dangerous villa. 
But it's just too late now, she said. 
Authorities have sent 61 people whose houses have collapsed or are no longer safe to other public housing buildings in the district.
It is uncertain how long they will be allowed to stay. 
In the meantime, many are worried about the state of many old houses across the city. 
The villa in Hoan Kiem District is only one out of nearly 1,600 in the capital built by the French.
French construction companies that built these houses have several years warned that many of them are no longer safe to live in. 
More than 1,000 of the villas are under government management and the rest belong to private users, and many of them are in deteriorating conditions.
Researchers said they are indeed too old. Many buildings have been redesigned and turned into apartment buildings and as a result receive a lot of pressure from the daily activities of a large number of people, they said, as cited by The Thao & Van Hoa.
Experts also blamed the poor drainage system in the capital city for weakening housing foundations and walls. 

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