A concrete pillar in a house in Quang Nam Province developed this deadly crack after 15 earthquakes hit the area between August 17 and September 7.
Officials in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Nam refused to accept assurances from experts that a recent spate of earthquakes was caused by the construction of a dam and that there is no threat to residents' safety.
Le Huy Minh, deputy director of the Institute of Geophysics, said at a meeting with authorities Wednesday that the earthquakes in Bac Tra My District were caused by the nearby Song Tranh 2 dam and "are normal."
Water from the reservoir had seeped into faults in the area, triggering seismic activity, which sounded like underground explosions, he said.
Some of the quakes have been felt beyond the district, but the experts said they would die down gradually and never exceed magnitude 5.5, the maximum the dam is designed to withstand.
But the officials said they do not believe that people living beneath central Vietnam's largest dam would be safe unless precautionary measures are taken.
They could not buy into any "safety" guarantees from the experts after there were 15 earthquakes in three weeks, including one of 4.2 magnitude on September 3 and another of 4 on the 7th, they said.
Several houses and schools have developed cracks.
The authorities also strongly opposed the experts' recommendation that water could be stored in the dam again since it too had developed cracks and leaked water for months from March until it was fixed in August.
Dang Phong, chairman of Bac Tra My District, said: "This is a serious problem. If we make a mistake, there will be no going back."
The province could handle just earthquakes "but this is a double concern: there is a fear of earthquakes and the dam is in bad condition."
Tran Xuan Tho, a provincial Party official, was angry when the geophysicists told the authorities to update locals on the situation and "educate" them about how to respond in case of an emergency.
"The only response will be to die," he said dramatically.
"People cannot be calm with earthquakes and an ocean cracking above their head.
"Ask me if I believe it is safe? Well, I don't."
The officials demanded to know the worst possible scenarios so that they could prepare to evacuate people if needed.
Song Tranh 2 dam, built at a cost of more than VND4.15 trillion (US$197.53 million), first caused quakes in November 2010 soon after it was completed, and more in April this year after it developed cracks.
Nguyen Duc Hai, the province Party chief, said the experts had not stayed long enough to make reliable studies.
Water cannot be stored yet, he said.
Its builder, the state-owned monopoly Electricity of Vietnam, should compensate people affected by the quakes, he said.
He even suggested that the dam could be "sacrificed" if more people agree with him that it is not safe.
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