The 69-year-old watchman couldn’t swim so when Tropical Storm Mirinae sparked a flash flood he ran, shimmied up a tree and hung on — for three nights and two days.
After several failed attempts to rescue Phan Cao Chuc, a military helicopter was able to reach him Thursday by lowering a cable with a soldier down to grab him and save him from a disaster that has killed at least 108 people in central Vietnam.
But the rescue wasn’t without drama. The first cable snapped, tossing the soldier into the 16-foot (5-meter) waters still raging waters below. He managed to swim to safety, but Chuc was now spooked and clung even tighter to the tree. Only after another cable was shot into the tree by a spear, was another soldier finally able to reach him.
“The man initially refused to go, fearing he could be dropped into the river,” said Lt. Nguyen Duc Vinh. “It took me 20 minutes to persuade him that it was safe to go with me.”
Chuc survived by lodging himself between two branches and catching rainwater in his construction helmet. Soldiers on the ground could not reach him, but on Wednesday managed to at least deliver biscuits, milk and a mobile phone to him through a pulley system anchored to the tree. They then called him and offered calming words of encouragement.
“It’s a miracle that this old man survived on rain water for two days and three nights in the tree,” Vinh said by telephone from the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai.
Chuc worked as a guard at a hydroelectric plant that’s under construction in Gia Lai province in the Central Highlands, where five people died from the flooding. Despite rising floodwaters, he stayed to stand watch over the equipment. But when the swollen river suddenly jumped its banks, Chuc and a colleague were trapped. The other man, who could swim, managed to reach dry land. He then sought help for Chuc.
The storm smacked ashore Monday and its death toll was at 108 in central Vietnam by Friday.
In the hardest-hit province of Phu Yen, 72 people were killed and 11 were reported missing. In neighboring Binh Dinh province, 18 deaths were reported.
The storm also injured 66 people, destroyed or damaged more than 27,000 homes and ravaged some 74,000 acres (30,000 hectares) of rice and other crops, according the national committee for flood and storm control.
The committee made an initial damage estimate of 2.1 trillion dong ($115 million), but the number is likely to rise after a more complete assessment of losses.
Central Vietnam, one of the communist country’s poorest regions, has been battered by two rounds of storms and flooding in just over a month. Tropical Storm Ketsana killed more than 160 people in the region in late September.
In the Philippines, Ketsana and two other storms killed more than 900.