A local radio reporter in Nghe An attempted to expose safety problems at the Nghe An quarry, last November, only to be ignored by newspapers and government officials
Rescuers search for the bodies of quarry employees buried in a rockslide at the Len Co Mountain stone quarry in the central province of Nghe An on April 1.
Nguyen Thi Nhung couldn't speak a word in the days after a rockslide at the Len Co Mountain quarry in Nghe An Province buried her and several of her co-workers.
The collapse occurred at around 7 a.m. on April 1.
After the dust settled, the 44-year-old woman managed to crawl out from under the debris.
She left behind several of her toes and doctors later removed a hand and a foot that were badly crushed in the accident. As many as 18 quarry employees were killed and six others, including Nhung, were injured in the accident.
She was not particularly happy to learn that work stopped at the quarry on April 3, pending a police investigation into safety violations.
Despite the fact that she's been rendered handicapped and will never return to hauling rock, Nhung remained oddly grateful for the rocks that put food on her table. Nhung's husband and two sons continue to work at stone quarries in the mountainous Yen Thanh District's Nam Thanh Commune.
"After the funerals for the dead, many people left to find work, elsewhere," she said. "The commune became almost deserted. No more sweat means no more money. Shortcomings in management caused the disaster. But it doesn't mean that they should deny local residents their only means of income, forever. They should allow mining with strict safety regulations."
Another survivor in the accident, Duong Thi Thanh, had both of her legs crushed, from thighs to toes, by falling rocks. However, her husband said he still hoped that the quarry would reopen soon.
"The accident was painful and my wife is disabled now. But I still wish the government would reopen the quarry," he said. "Otherwise, I don't know how people like me are supposed to make a living."
Throughout the mountainous communes in the central provinces, many work as day laborers at the quarries, loading load stone onto trucks and tractors. They work without contracts and earn around VND60,000 (US$2.9) per day. Each night, they return home with cuts all over their hands.
Early warnings ignored
Few are aware that the collapse at the Len Co Mountain quarry could have been avoided if local authorities hadn't ignored warnings raised by a young reporter at a local radio station.
Phan The Trung, chairman of the Nam Thanh Commune People's Committee, admitted that the reporter visited him, asking questions about the lack of safety precautions at the quarry more than six months ago.
Many reporters in Nghe An also confirmed that Trung, of the Yen Thanh Radio Station, wrote an expose, last year, about the Len Co Mountain stone quarry.
In his story, Trung detailed how 80 workers were working in the mine without proper safety equipment. What's worse, Trung charged that the Chin Men Company had instructed its employees to detonate explosive charges midway up the quarry walls, in a bid to save money on explosives.
The technique is known to be risky.
The approved excavation called for the mountain to be stripped down in layers"”from the top to bottom.
Trung attempted to sell his story to three newspapers, all of which rejected it. Instead of investigating Trung's claims, one of those papers published an item about the quarry, last November, praising safety at the site.
Trung said that the Chin Men Company, whose director Phan Cong Chin was arrested on April 4, was responsible for the accident. He also criticized quarry employees for failing to follow basic safety regulations"”like wearing helmets"” and governmental watchdogs for failing to monitor conditions at the mine.
Commune authorities were hamstrung, he said. At most, the laws only allowed them to issue maximum fines of VND500,000 ($24) against safety violations.
"We used to be concerned about safety at the Voi mountain quarries where four companies were mining a few dozen of hectares," Trung said. "No one expected a collapse at Len Co mountain [where one company was mining roughly three hectares (7.4 acres)]."
After the accident, Chin, director of Chin Men Company, was discovered to lack any qualifications as the head of a mining firm.
Chin used to be a dog meat trader.
Since the tragic accident, an old man has stood vigil (through the night) by a pair of two graves at a local cemetery.
The man, Nguyen Tho Phuong, lost his two sons Nguyen Tho Hoang and Nguyen Tho Vu to the accident.
"We were hungry and they had to quit school to work," he said. "They worked, from dawn till dusk, at the quarry ever since they were ten years old. Each earned VND60,000 ($2.9) a day, and came home with hands bloodied by scrapes and cuts."