About 50km from Quang Nam province’s administrative center is Tam Ky City. It takes over three hours for a motorbike to make it down the bumpy road DT616 crossing mountains and hills from there to Bac Tra My Town, where strange geologic activity has residents on edge.
Increasingly violent mountain explosions
Residents of the town cannot help but feel anxious, as the intensity of the quakes keeps increasing. The nearby mountain of the Truong Son chain explodes ever more loudly every night.
Lu Quang Lai, nearly 70, says he has never witnessed such strange phenomenon in Tra My in the past decades.
“About 10 months ago, when the new hydroelectricity power plant started to conserve water, the water level in the lake got higher every day. The land here seemed to change. Every night exploding sounds would emanate from the earth, followed by a rumbling sound. Recently the explosions and quakes have become more violent. Glasses and cups fall down like leaves, everything tilts”, Lai speaks in a tremble.
Nguyen Phuoc Danh, a motorbike mechanic, lives in a house 300km from Song Tranh 2 hydroelectricity plant’s dam. His home is the worst affected in the area, suffering from three tremors.
“Two nights ago, the mountain exploded with a deafening sound. Although I’ve become used to the noise caused by TNT explosives during the dam’s construction, nothing compared to the recent explosion.
“A few seconds later, the earth shook. The roof and the windows rattled. Things started to fall. The wall creaked, and then cracked. I took my wife and kids out to the street. A chill crept up from my heels to my head just like electricity”, Danh says in disbelief.
Frogs move in colonies
While the tremors await an explanation from scientists, residents continue to witness bizarre phenomenon.
People of Bac Tra My District recall the story of Ho Van Thoi, 54, who brought back a load of frogs and toads caught in Nuoc Vin creek’s headwaters one day before the quake.
Thoi says, “That afternoon, while trying to quench my thirst, I saw an army of frogs and toads swimming upstream. There were so many of them that they climbed on top of one another, all I had to do was reach down and pick them up.”
Thoi, along with other villagers, asserts that such an odd event has never happened before in this area. “The frogs must have heard the tremors before us humans!”, Thoi postulates.
According to residents, the area around Nuoc Vin creek was originally a hot spring. The water was boiling hot; hot enough to cook a shrimp in just one dip.
When the hydroelectricity system began conserving water, the hot spring sank deep down the reservoir for good.
Ho Van Loi, Chairman of Tra Doc Commune’s People’s Committee, says that after the quake, there were nearly 10 houses in his area with damaged walls.
A mountain of the Truong Son chain in the central Quang Nam Province exploded and caused the land crack near the dam of the Song Tranh 2 hydroelectricity power plant (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
Le Van Tuan, Chief of Administration at Bac Tra My District’s People’s Committee, says these strange events began with the filling of the hydroelectricity plant’s reservoir in January, when the mountain first started to explode.
Local residents started to excitedly discuss the strange phenomena. At first, the authorities thought the explosions inside the earth were caused by covert army construction, so a secret investigation was conducted.
“All reports to the province’s authorities and related departments were classified. I myself prepared the documents to send to higher bodies and the district police for the explosion investigation.
It was suspected someone had planted dynamite in the mountain to dig gold or to fish in the lake. After months of investigating without finding a trace of dynamite, I became more worried”, Tuan recalls.
An evacuation plan in case of emergency is too big of an undertaking for the district authorities to handle. Tuan cannot hide his fear: “The depth of the reservoir lake is 80 meters, and Bac Tra My Town sits 100 meters lower than the lake surface.
“If an earth quake were to occur, over 730 million cubic meters of water would rush down that distance, wiping out not only our town, but other districts towards the end of the Thu Bon River as well”.
A search for explanation
After the strong earth tremor at Bac Tra My on November 17th, Associate Prof. Dr. Cao Dinh Trieu – vice chairman and secretary-general of Vietnam’s Geophysical association – asserted that the event was a phenomenon known as “earthquake excitation”.
The nearest seismic station is in Thua Thien-Hue, where a tremor of a 3.5 magnitude on the Richter scale was recorded.
On November 28, the station recorded earthquakes in Bac Tra My and Nam Tra My districts with a magnitude lower than 3 on the Richter scale. There was also a cracking sound heard from Tra Bong (Quang Ngai) all the way to Quang Nam.