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Hero risks his life to rescue flood victims

Update: December, 04/2013 - 08:58

Pham Lam Vu (right) recalled using this bamboo boat to save two people during the fierce flood in Quang Ngai Province last month. — VNS Photo Phuoc Buu

by Phuoc Buu

QUANG NGAI (VNS) — It was the right decision at the right time. Pham Lam Vu, 39, knows that now, since two people are safe after he saved them from the fierce flood in November in central Quang Ngai Province.

But his decision caused many tears from his wife, and much worrying from his father, as well as his taking a huge chance by risking his life.

"I cried a lot when he decided to sail the boat into the dark night to face the strong currents from the flood during heavy rains. It was too dangerous. I have never seen such strong floods. I prayed to the soul of my late mother-in-law to protect my husband," says Bui Thi Mai Ha, Vu's wife.

The woman was recalling the moment Vu started his life and death trip to save two people. "I cried then prayed, prayed then cried. Those three hours were a nightmare to me. More rains gave me more pains. Flood waters were like a waterfall."

Early on November 15, continuously heavy rains in central provinces, from Thua Thien Hue to Khanh Hoa, caused high water levels in every river in the region.

The region's hydro-power reservoirs were filled by high waters and when officials had to release waters in large volumes, it caused the most rapid and heaviest floods that local residents had ever seen.

In Quang Ngai, the flood waters inundated lowlands in the early afternoon, with flooding quickly increasing. Locals did not have even a little time to move to higher and safer places.

Some in the province's Nghia Hanh District did not think that the floods could grow so quickly, thus they continued traveling, though the water had risen to the height of their knees.

Nguyen Thai Hanh, 67, left his weak wife on the second floor of his new house to move to his adjacent old house to pick up some necessities. Some 10 minutes later, when he was on his way back to the new house after retrieving the items he needed, strong currents sent him to a telephone pole, Hanh says.

Then the waters carried off his daughter-in-law, who was walking behind him, and threw her into a wild pineapple bush. Hanh grabbed hold of his daughter-in-law and the two held onto a post, until they pulled a wooden board from the water and attached it to the pole and stood on it. The two later moved the board up higher when flood waters continued to rise.

But they ran out of space when flood waters reached their peak at 11pm and the rain was continuing. Hanh and his daughter-in-law began thinking of death as water reached their waists. They were in the water for six hours and were cold, and filled with fear and hopelessness.

At the same time, Hanh' son, who lives in HCM City and is an acquaintance of Vu, rang Vu's phone to ask for help to save his father and his wife. A wealthy neighbour of Vu even offered a reward of VND50million (around US$2,400) to anyone who could rescue Hanh, a friend of his, but no one accepted.

Vu, however, knew nothing. He was busy saving merchandise at the department store, which is run by his wife, as flood waters rose closer to the ceiling of the first floor of his house. The store is located on the first floor, while his father, wife and son were safe on the second floor.

"When he got to the second floor to rest, everything was safe from the water and he was really tired. But he jumped into the water again after I told him about the phone calls for help," recalled his wife, Mai Ha.

"It had been dangerous, I told him and begged him to stay home. But he started to untie his bamboo boat, saying again that the victims needed to be saved.

Every family in the area has a boat, though Vu's boat was filled with mattresses from his wife's store, and it was blocked by a steel door held tight by strong flood waters on the outside.

It took him almost 20 minutes to dive into the flood waters to release water. This was a long time as his father cried, thinking Vu was dead from exhaustion.

Vu finally got on board with his 68-year-old father, who wanted to be with him to balance the weak boat on the fierce waters at around 11pm.

"I was shocked as I saw him on the boat. He's a true hero to dare confront that kind of strong flood," the next-door neighbour says.

Things got tough for Vu, and his wife began to pray while crying. One steering oar was pulled from his father's hands, and had to be replaced by a wooden chuck taken out of the water.

Meanwhile, Vu received a serious cut on his hand as water pushed his boat along a steel roof that had a sharp edge.

"I had to move horizontally on the water to find a wider space to sail along the flows vertically," Vu says. He then stopped at his relative's house for another flashlight. This stop allowed a strong companion to join them, Nguyen Van Nhat.

"The boat moved so quickly in a few minutes and we luckily stopped near the pole where Hanh and his daughter-in-law were being held. We caught the pole so we could stop," Vu says.

"At that time, Hanh was so cold he could not say a word. We were so happy to get him on board, but we needed all our strength to sail 100m to reach Hanh's house."

Vu finally reached Hanh's house and safety for two people who were thought to be dead, though his father had fainted from exhaustion. It was midnight.

Days after the flood, discussions by local residents in the Hanh Dung Commune was about their hero, Vu. But he refused the praise, saying: "It was a must for anybody if they received a call for help. I received the call and I knew I must do it, as would any normal person."

In another commune, Hanh Tin Tay, local resident Ho So, with his two sons and a relative, used their boat in the afternoon to bring 80 people from the lowlands to safer areas, before the flood rose higher.

They are also heroes, but for his actions when the flood waters were at their peak, Vu could be called the hero of heroes.

Tran Quang Vinh, deputy chairman of Hanh Dung commune and also head of the commune's rescue team, said: "Vu was so brave. I experienced this fierce flood and knew how dangerous it was."

Vinh also praised Vu for his reputation as a good man in the community and for having a very good family business that he and his wife developed with their bare hands.

"I am so proud of him. I knew at that time I could not stop him from sailing in the flood because of his kind-heartedness. I married him for that," Vu's wife, Mai Ha, says while smiling. — VNS



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