October, 02 2012 10:47:20

Traditional homes safer in earthquakes

by Hoai Nam


Pham Thi Nhuat in her temporary home behind her other quake-affected house. Local people build stilt houses with timber and bamboo to provide protection from tremors and earthquakes. — VNS Photo Hoai Nam
QUANG NAM (VNS)— Nguyen Van Lam and his three-member family have, for the past two months, spent their days and nights in two different houses.

The one for daytime is made of brick, which used to be their dream. They have lived there for more than three years thanks to the Government's plan to build concrete houses for the poor.

The other, for night-time, is made of wood with a leaf roof. This is a traditional type of house for the Ca Dong ethnic minority group, who has historically lived in the area.

The two houses are located close to each other in Tra Doc Commune in central Quang Nam Province's Bac Tra My District.

Lam explains he made this move in order to protect his family from the potential dangers of earthquakes and tremors, which have struck the region more than 20 times this year.

Tra Doc, located only 30km away from the Song Tranh hydropower plant, is the worst affected area among five communes in the district.

"We have been nervous about the quakes. We don't feel safe spending the night in our own house, where I found 4m cracks on the walls and in the main structure," Lam says.

"I'm not sure if it will collapse or not. However, I decided to build a timber house on stilts and sleep there just in case," he said.

The stilted house, which sits on wooden columns with a leaf roof, has held up well during recent earthquakes.

Local people believe that because it is built with such light materials, even if it collapses, the wooden house will not cause damages.

Chairman of Tra Doc Commune's People's Committee Ho Van Loi says that many homeowners, like Lam, have built temporary stilted houses or cottages behind their current quake-affected houses as a way to stay secure at night.

Tra Doc, 62km from Tam Ky city – the capital of Quang Nam Province – is home to 2,600 people, of which 85 per cent are poor.

The local residents, of which a majority are Ca Dong ethnic people, live on 5,300ha of rice farms and forests. The average income per capita per month is roughly VND200,000 (less than US$10).

Over 73 houses in the commune have found cracks on the walls, girders or wooden columns, which resulted from the 3.8-4.2 Richter earthquakes.

The excitation earthquakes which resulted from the water storage of the Song Tranh hydropower plant have stagnated production and caused anxiety among local people since June.

Although scientists and experts had confirmed that the plant was safe even after a 5.5 Richter earthquake, local people still worry that the maximum 730 million cubic metre water reservoir would collapse if uninterrupted quakes hit the region.

Chairman Loi said the local people grew used to continuous quakes and tremors throughout August and September.

The commune, 3km away from the plant, is always prepared for an alarming situation with earthquake monitors around the clock.

Although the reservoir, with its maximum of 730 million cubic metres, is not allowed to store water, heavy rain has brought the water level to 161m. The hydropower plant contains about 461 million cubic metres.

Scientists and experts from the Geophysics Institute estimated that Bac Tra My district would be hit by multiple quakes and tremors.

For the district of over 20,000 people, this is not good news.

Stories of quakes are retold each day around the village.

"The 4.2 Richter quake on September 3 made glasses and cups tumble onto the table. I grabbed my children and rushed out of the house - at midnight! It was so terrifying," said Pham Thi Loan, a mother of eight children.

"I feel anxious when I work on the farm because I still have two children who are in kindergarten. I ran home fast when I heard the quake. For this reason, I've rarely gone to work on the farm the last few weeks," Loan, 46, recalled.

Pham Thi Nhuat has stayed at home for two months to look after her 4-year-old daughter.

"Only my husband works on our 1,000sq.m paddy-field. We lost the harvest from a flood a few months ago. I did not save any food from the farm, which produces 200kg of rice each season," Nhuat said.

"We have struggled with starvation but odd jobs saved us. I want to go out working, but I worry about my daughter, even when I send her to kindergarten," the 23-year-old said.

Some local people even fled from their homes.

According to Loi, local authorities have provided leaflets and educated local people about how to avoid the worst damage whenever earthquakes happen as well as encouraging them to work on their farms.

Each communal administrator had to take notes when quakes and tremors occurred, he adds.

Local children have also learned to rescue themselves.

Ho Van Vy, 9, the fourth grade student, said his teachers trained him how to deal with quakes.

"I have to rush out of the house or hide under the table whenever quakes happen. The ground under my feet starts shaking," Vy recalls.

In a meeting with the Quang Nam provincial administration last week, deputy general director of Electricity of Viet Nam (EVN) Tran Van Duoc said the Song Tranh hydropower plant owner plans to repair damaged houses for local people in five communes of Bac Tra My district.

But the local residents expect more.

"It would be much better if our houses were designed and constructed with quake-resistant structure, so we would not have to flee," resident Lam says.

The flood season is coming and Tra Doc residents are waiting for good news from the plant's owner. All they want is a safe dam. — VNS

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