Arrow-right Camera


Vietnamese Take Floods In Stride; Can-Do Spirit Surmounts Hardships Death Toll Surprisingly Low As Lo River Overflows Again

Sun., Aug. 20, 1995

Nguyen Thi Nga’s house wasn’t a mansion to begin with, but now her family has to share it with four neighbors and 11 squealing pigs.

For the fifth time in 14 years, Tuyen Quang is flooded. The Lo River has overflowed its banks again and filled the streets of this provincial capital with muddy water.

Floods are part of life in Vietnam, a nation of great and small rivers and rice paddies. The flooding brings hardship but also gives rise to an impressive can-do spirit, as seen in the people here.

Nga, who raises pigs for a living, had to bring them up to her home’s balcony because the downstairs was filled with 3 feet of water.

She and her husband, their two children and four neighbors were squeezed onto the second floor, fortified with food, jugs of water and videos to wait out the flood.

Any complaints? “When they’re cold, they make a lot of noise and wake us up,” Nga said of her piglets.

Schools, shops and offices closed, and about 45,000 residents of Tuyen Quang and surrounding areas were stranded. The only way to get to the capital of Hanoi, 70 miles to the southeast, was to rent a boat and travel downriver.

But the death toll has been surprisingly low: two people in Tuyen Quang and five in other northern provinces, officials said Saturday.

Maybe that has something to do with the people of Tuyen Quang.

Their streets transformed into canals and their farms into lakes, people got around on improvised craft, including bamboo rafts and wash basins set inside inner tubes. Some made crude canoes from wood and corrugated metal. They propelled themselves with poles, shovels and even badminton rackets.

And they looked for ways to turn hardship into gain.

“I’m just taking the chance to make more money,” said Le The Khoi, a construction worker turned ferryman paddling passengers in his wooden boat.

Khoi said he has earned $2.70 each day since the flood began, compared with his normal wages of $1.80.

Families were perched on the roofs and balconies of their brick and cement houses, lowering buckets by rope to collect muddy water for cooking on portable coal- or oil-burning stoves. The lucky ones still had electricity and several days’ supply of fresh water.

“Before every rainy season, we tell each family to stockpile food and to save 15 bamboo logs to make rafts,” said Vu Manh Thang, vice chairman of the Tuyen Quang provincial People’s Committee.

To prevent profiteering, authorities stocked up on gasoline, rice, pork and salt - and even monosodium glutamate, a popular seasoning.

Policemen helped by delivering dried noodles and other supplies to those who couldn’t get to one of the few markets left on high ground.

Red and gold Vietnamese flags still lined the streets, left over from celebrations Wednesday marking the 50th anniversary of the start of Vietnam’s fight for independence. The flags, plus the clusters of townspeople on second-floor balconies, created the odd sense of an arriving parade.

But the main sounds in Tuyen Quang were croaking frogs, splashing children and the occasional passing motorboat.


Click here to comment on this story »