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Saturday,  Nov 25,2017,12:35 (GMT+7)

Tragically poor preparations

Son Nguyen
Friday,  Nov 10,2017,20:23 (GMT+7)
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Tragically poor preparations

Son Nguyen

Early warnings of the approaching Tropical Storm Damrey, the 12th storm which struck the country this year, were repeatedly issued, orders given by authorities, and forces mobilized to cope with the ferocious storm, but the consequences are still highly damaging, sinking the public heart and conscience. Five days after the storm made landfall in south-central Vietnam last Saturday, the entire society is still reeling from the trail of massive devastation, as the natural calamity has killed as many as 89, while 18 others remain missing.

An updated report from the National Committee for Search and Rescue, according to Nguoi Lao Dong, also shows that the storm destroyed or severely damaged 116,000 houses, sank 1,231 ships and boats, damaged over 24,400 rafts and cages for fish farming plus 36,400 hectares of crops. The haunting question is why the devastation is so massive despite preparations from authorities and the people, and consequently, whether such preparations are really effective.

Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung chaired a conference in Khanh Hoa Province last Friday, hours before the storm hit the mainland, where he ordered leaders and relevant agencies in the central region from Quang Tri southward to Binh Thuan Province to roll up their sleeves for the storm. He demanded that provincial authorities take urgent measures to evacuate all the people from risky areas to safety, and mull ways to protect dikes and dams, while all vessels had to be called back to the shores.

Despite the urgent demand, Khanh Hoa bears the brunt of losses, with 37 people reported dead, according to Thanh Nien. The province’s leader, in a meeting with the Prime Minister after the storm, also estimated property damages at VND7 trillion, or some US$320 million, the biggest loss incurred by a province.

Before the storm, relevant agencies had announced plans to evacuate nearly 400,000 people. It was unknown how many had been evacuated, but Sai Gon Giai Phong, citing a report from the Central Steering Committee for Natural Disaster Prevention and Control updated to last Friday afternoon, said that hours before the storm, Khanh Hoa had managed to evacuate only 5,939 compared to the planned number of 133,500, or a mere 4%, while the ratios of successful evacuations were also extremely low in some other provinces, or none at all in Binh Dinh, Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan provinces. It is highly regrettable that as many as 15 people are reported dead in Binh Dinh, second only to Khanh Hoa.

So comes the finger-pointing game in the aftermath of the storm.

While Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Xuan Cuong, head of the Central Steering Committee for Natural Disaster Prevention and Control, asserts in Nguoi Lao Dong that weather forecasters gave exact data on the storm, but leaders of some provinces reject such claims.

At a meeting with the Prime Minister this Monday, Phu Yen Province’s representative said the storm started pounding the coast four hours earlier than forecast, while another representative said that the weather forecaster made no mention of Binh Dinh Province while this locality actually suffered a lot.

In Binh Dinh, ten cargo vessels were either sunk or stranded by the storm, killing ten, while three other sailors were still missing, according to Nguoi Lao Dong. These vessels capsized, according to Tuoi Tre, because there was not enough shelter space for them. Ho Quoc Dung, Chairman of Binh Dinh Province, explains in the newspaper that as many as 104 cargo vessels and other large-size ships sought to take shelter in Quy Nhon Port, but under the guidelines of the Transport Ministry, the port can handle only 30 vessels. “Quy Nhon Port Authority allowed 53 vessels to take shelter in the port, while 51 others had to be anchored at Buoy No. 0, and eight vessels there with 84 crewmembers on board capsized,” Dung is quoted in Tuoi Tre. He admits that such an incident could not be anticipated.

Such explanations can hardly be acceptable.

Deputy Minister of National Defense Le Chiem criticizes provincial authorities for their poor readiness, saying if the storm had been more ferocious, all vessels that docked outside Quy Nhon Port may have gone. “When the storm comes, and if the port is unable to accommodate all, we must have solutions,” he says.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Do Thang Hai also ponders why crewmen could still stay onboard the vessels when the storm arrived. “Local authorities still lack experiences in coping with storms,” he says in Tuoi Tre.

Lacking experiences in coping with storms and similar natural calamities is weird in a country battered by scores of tropical storms a year.

Lao Dong newspaper recalls that half a month earlier, as many as 75 people were killed and 28 others missing in the previous storm, while one month prior, six people were killed and 37 injured in the tenth storm.

According to the paper, the recent storm has exposed the poor preparedness on the part of local governments. In the case of Binh Dinh Province, scores of fatalities were reported in areas not under the evacuation plans, while in Quang Ngai, ten people were killed in areas deemed by local government as safe. Many more will die if lessons are not learned in earnest from such deadly experiences, according to the paper.

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