ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Mother's bravery saves children
Publication Date : 03-10-2013
Flood and landslide has taken away houses and farmlands in northern part of Laos but not love of a mother to her children
The steady rain falling in the early morning in the village where Vamy Yuapaovang lived in Oudomxay province in northern part of Laos did not alarm her.
She and her five children had gone bed, not suspecting anything unusual was in store. Around midnight, when her family was in a deep sleep, she heard something erupt like thunder in her backyard. She woke to see a destructive landslide moving towards the village, sweeping her home and children away.
The recent landslide in Baeng district happened too fast to offer any warning to Vamy and her neighbours. She had no idea what was happening; what she saw was rocks, floodwaters and trees jumbled together and moving relentlesly down the hillside towards her and her children.
That night her husband, Singchan, was working on their farm, leaving Vamy alone to care for their five children and her 70-year-old mother-in-law.
With seconds to spare Vamy managed to escape the house with three of her daughters, while her son and another daughter disappeared in the floodwaters.
The family house was ripped up and tipped over, forcing Vamy to leave the three children including her eldest, a 12-year-old at a nearby house before she could begin the search for the missing two.
She called on some men to help her, but they turned her down. No one would brave the deadly landslide and most were focused on running for their lives.
With nothing but a mother's love to guide her, she walked into the darkness to find her children.
With the power cut and no light to see by, Vamy could only follow the sounds of crying and calling coming from a metal fence in a rice paddy near her house.
Vamy said at that decisive moment, she did not fear anything.
“All I could think about was saving my children, who kept crying and calling for help,” she said.
She recalled having to wade through the floodwaters to rescue them from where they were caught. Holding them tightly, she pushed through the water and debris that had destroyed almost the entire village.
Historically, the landslide was the worst natural disaster to hit Baeng district, home to more than 26,000 people in 57 villages.
In the wake of the landslides and floods, 17 people were left dead and widespread destruction reported to houses, farmland and infrastructure.
In Phiahhuanam village, not far from Vamy's house, all seven members of one family lost their lives.
While Vamy's children were saved, she lost her mother-in-law.
She had thought her mother-in-law was buried in the mud but local authorities found her body downstream in the Baeng River the next morning.
The landslide was over almost as soon as it began, but the destruction was immense. For a time nobody knew who had made it out alive, including Singchan, who feared for his family.
He could not see the village in the distance as he headed home at about 8am, such was the scale of the damage.
“I kept asking people along the way about my family, but no one could give me an answer,” Singchan said.
When he made it home he saw people clearing the mess from their houses, trying to find valuables buried in the mud. Most were wearing the same clothes from the night before. He struggled to even figure out where his house was in the carnage.
Singchan was relieved when he found out his family had survived, but still had to deal with the news of his mother.
“If I had not gone to the farm, my mother would not have died,” he said.
He praised his wife for saving the family.
“My wife is super. She is a super wife to have saved our children no matter how dangerous the situation was. She is so brave,” Singchan said.
The wire they had used to fence their rice paddies saved the children's lives, and fortunately they were left with only minor scratches.
But the flood has left pain and nightmares in its wake.
Many residents struggle to come to terms with what happened; most had lived in the village their entire lives and had never experienced destruction on such a scale.
Most will have to relocate to another area as authorities fear landslides may strike again.
The river they rely on became a monster. The mountain that offered them food and shade could no longer hold the ground, letting nature overcome the village.
Their former home has become a ghost town.
Vamy tears up when she looks at what's left of her home.
“We have not been able to sleep properly since the flood,” she said. “When I fall asleep I feel as if there are rocks and water moving towards my village again.”
She is not alone people in Champassak, Xekong, Saravan, Borikhamxay and Khammuan provinces have survived the worst flooding for decades.
Villagers have lost their loved ones, livelihoods, homes and farms. Their futures are uncertain; they do not know how long recovery will take or if floods will strike again next year.
For now, Vamy and her neighbours have moved to a new area where they hope they will not have to face such a nightmare again.
With new lives in the new village, she and her husband hope to encourage their children to look after nature so it will not punish the next generation.
But no matter how far they are from their old home, the memory of the flood will never fade.