Dong Ha, Quang Tri, 27 Jan 2010
A Wednesday afternoon explosion of wartime ordnance in a middle school playground in Dong Ha City, Quang Tri Province, shook walls and shattered windows, but the 550 students who were in class at the time escaped injury.
The accident occurred just five minutes before the students were scheduled to take a break from their studies, when they would have crowded into the school yard where the blast occurred.
The ordnance, identified later as a 105mm projectile, based on shrapnel scattered around the area of the explosion, detonated underneath a large tree stump 20 meters away from the nearest classroom. Fortunately, nobody was hurt by the blast, which resounded throughout the neighborhood.
According to Mr. Ho Dac Di, Principal of Nguyen Hue School, a large tree in the school yard was cut down last year and the remaining stump was too big to be removed. So the school’s managing board decided to burn it slowly using paper litter collected from the school’s classrooms. No one knew the unexploded ordnance was buried underneath the stump.
“I was working in my office when I heard the explosion,” said Mr. Di. “I was shocked because it sounded like a big bomb.”
Di said they had been burning the trash around the stump since Saturday. The heat caused the unexploded projectile to detonate, hurtling the stump across the schoolyard and shattering the glass of at least ten windows in the three-story school.
“Luckily, my pupils were all in their classrooms when it exploded,” Di said. “Had it happened only five minutes later, there would have been a lot of casualties.”
Nearby residents whose children were enrolled in afternoon classes rushed to the school immediately after they heard the explosion, to check if their children were hurt. Military engineers and policemen arrived soon after to investigate.
“No unexploded ordnance has been found in the area of this school since 1985,” said Captain Le Phuoc Giai, Chief of Ward 5 Police Station, “thus people think this place is safe. However, this explosion is a strong evidence that ordnance left over from the war that ended 35 years ago might still remain deeply buried in this newly urbanized town,” Captain Giai said.
The Principal announced that the school managing board would ask Dong Ha’s military engineering unit to deploy a clearance team and make sure any other underground explosive remnants had been removed, to insure the safety of the 1,020 students attending his school.
During the Vietnam War, Dong Ha was the strategically important location of a U.S. Marine Combat Base, an outpost that provided surveillance of troops movements across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).