Vietnam's underwater tunnel to meet seismic standards: official

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The Thu Thiem Tunnel, Vietnam's first underwater tunnel now being built beneath Ho Chi Minh City's Saigon River, will be safe for earthquakes of up to six on the Richter scale, an official has said.

Although it's highly unlikely that such a quake would ever take place in the city, such a possibility has been taken into consideration, Vuong Hoang Thanh, vice director of the East West Highway and Water Environment Project, was quoted by local news website VnExpress as saying Friday.

The joints linking the sections are made of rubber, allowing the tunnel to move during an earthquake, Thanh said.

The tunnel, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, is part of the East West Highway and Water Environment Project, Ho Chi Minh City's largest infrastructure project.

The first 27,000-ton section of the tunnel, set to link HCMC's Districts 1 and 2, was submerged beneath the Saigon River last Sunday and officials said the work was completed successfully.

The VND2.2 trillion-plus (US$115.3 million) tunnel is set to open to traffic next year. The project was started in 2007 and was first expected to be completed at the end of 2008. However it was delayed in June 2008 when authorities found cracks in sections that were still under construction.

"The cracks were a concern for everyone when the first section was installed," Thanh said. "We sighed with relief when the inside of the section was completely dry."

"Experts said the Japanese contractor had fixed the cracks really well," he said.

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