Rock mining has leveled mountains at a UNESCO biosphere reserve along the coast of Kien Giang Province even as cement factories severely pollute the environment, residents say.
Nguyen Thuy Linh, a resident of Kien Luong District, said mines explode every day at the mountain near her home and she's gotten used to it.
"If one day I do not hear the mine explosion, I'd miss it," Linh said.
After each explosion, lines of bulldozers and excavators will come in to dredge the foot of the mountain.
Almost all mountains in the district are being destroyed in this manner.
Ho Van Tan, a district official, said the district has around 30 mountains but he doesn't know how many of them are being destroyed for rocks as "the district does not grant the excavation permits, the province does."
Tan said he knows some mountains are subject to excavation for 20 to 50 years. The Trau mountain has lost its top and all the rocks are exposed, he said.
Le Van Hien, deputy head of the district Natural Resources and Environment Department, said mountains which used to be the district landscapes such as Lam Bo and Xa Ngach are now as flat as the surrounding paddy fields.
But they are still not spared, Hien said.
The companies are digging out as much as underground rocks as they can.
"Mountains such as Quynh, May and Son Tra have not been touched but there're already plans for them; they will share the same fate sooner or later," he said.
The only limestone mountain area in southern Vietnam now has less than 3.6 square kilometers left.
Scientific research have found that limestone mountains at Kien Luong, which is part of Kien Giang biosphere reserve recognized by the UNESCO in 2006, are home to many species of flora and fauna, including six bird species listed both in the national and international Red Book of endgangered animals.
The reserve is also home to many species whose population status has not been assessed yet.
Among these are the Indochinese Lutung (Trachypithecus germaini) listed in the Red Book as facing high risk of extinction. There are less than 200 of them left in limestone mountain caves in the area.
But local residents are afraid the reserve will disappear soon as the province has approved 67 projects, mostly for Kien Luong, to excavate rocks, granites, limestones, sand and gravel, according to statistics compiled by Kien Giang Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
The projects in Kien Luong will excavate 180 million tons of limestone for producing cement, lime and fertilizers, and 70 million tons of rocks for construction every year.
Khoe La mountain, where many of the langurs live, is being exploited by Holcim Cement company.
"Dozens of rock excavation sites are operating in the district and not bringing anything to the district, except for several cheap jobs and environmental pollution, Tan said.
Lam Hong Vu, a 60-year-old resident living about a kilometer from the Ha Tien Cement Factory, said houses in the area are covered by dust whole year through. "The local specialty is dust from cement factories."
Keo Tay, a xe om driver, said there's so much black dust in the air that he has to turn on the headlights of the bike during daytime.
All children in the area have respiratory problems as the dust would enter their classrooms no matter how tightly the doors and windows are closed.
Yet, the province has approved to several other cement factories which are supposed to produce more than 8,200 tons of cement a year between 2011 and 2020.