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2. Local Institutions Response to 1999 Flood Event in Central Vietnam

2.1 November 1999 Flood Event

The 1-6 November 1999 flood is one of the most severe flood events in Central Vietnam. The DMC reported that it affected 6 coastal provinces (from Quang Binh to Binh Dinh) and caused more than 600 deaths and missing and nearly USD 300 million loss of property. This event is said to be of greater magnitude and impact than the historic floods of 1886, 1924, 1953 and 1983.

2.1.1 Synoptic Conditions

In the latter half of October 1999, the central region experienced more than normal rainfall due to the influence of tropical storm Eve (Figure 4). Provinces from Ha Tinh to Quang Ngai had heavy to very heavy rains. These rains were the first in a series of heavy rain events that lasted from 2-3 weeks.

At 7:00 a.m. on 20 October 1999, these provinces had received from 100 mm to 470 mm of rainfall, exceeding their monthly averages. The highest recorded was in Ky Anh District, Ha Tinh province at 470 mm. Hue City recorded 289 mm rainfall.

Source: HMS-Vietnam

Figure 4. Tract of tropical storm Eve, 20 October 1999

Floodwater levels on rivers in Quang Binh and Quang Tri provinces and downstream of the Thu Bon River (Quang Nam Province) as well as Thua Thien Hue Province reached their highest levels. The floodwater level on the Kien Giang River at the Le Thuy gauging station (Quang Binh) was at 2.05 m (above the Alarm Level II)[5]; on the Quang Tri River at the Thach Han gauging station was at 2.69 m (above Alarm Level I); on the Thu Bon River at Cau Lau gauging station was at 1.75 m (0.35m below Alarm Level I).

From 1-6 November, the combined effect of a low pressure area over the South China Sea and the tail end of the cold front caused heavy precipitations over the central region, severely flooding provinces from Quang Binh to Binh Dinh. Figure 5 shows the band of cloudiness over Central Vietnam.

Figure 5. Band of cloudiness over Central Vietnam from 1-4 November 1999 associated with a low pressure area

Heavy rainfall from 600 to over 1,000 mm was experienced in these provinces. Total recorded rainfalls compared to normal averages over this period at various gauging stations in the central provinces are shown in Figure 6. The rains occurred on a large scale and concentrated in a short period. In Hue City alone, mean rainfall reached 1,384 mm, the highest level in the city in 100 years since 1886.

Source: HMS-Vietnam

Figure 6. Actual vs. normal rainfall in Central Vietnam, 1-6 November 1999

In Quang Tri, total cumulative rainfall recorded at Dong Ha station along the eastern coastal region of the province (Figure 7), from 1-4 November was about 800 mm, compared to the long-term average of only 100 mm for the same period. Over Khesanh station, along the mountainous region of the province, observed rainfall during this period was also above average (Figure 8).

Figure 7. Location of rainfall monitoring stations at Quang Tri Province

Figure 8. Actual daily rainfall (1-10 November 1999) vs. long-term average (1975-2000), Quang Tri Province

By 2 November, rivers in the affected provinces started to overflow. River levels exceeded Alarm Level III by 0.3 to almost 3 m (Table 3). The level of the Huong River in Hue reached 5.94 m, surpassing its historic 1983 flood level by 1.06 m. All districts of Thua Thien Hue Province and many districts of Quang Tri, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Quang Binh, Da Nang, and Binh Dinh provinces were deeply inundated: 20 districts in the region were 2-4 m under water. The streets of Hue ran with water 1-3 m deep. Eleven communes in Phu Loc and Phu Vang Districts were isolated. Ten ships, 2 patrol canoes and hundreds of houses were swept away.

Uncontrollable flooding combined with landslides inflicted severe damage on roads, dykes and infrastructure. National Highway1A was 2 m under water. Transportation from the North to the South was blocked for many days. Many households lost their main food supply and income for the next 6 months until the next rice harvest in April/May. In the hilly areas, many long-term investment in pepper were lost.

Table 3: Water level (m) of rivers in Central Vietnam, 1-6 November 1999


Name of

Water Level
1-6 Nov 1999

Level above
Alarm Level

Level above
1983 level

Ai Nghia

Vu Gia




Lau Cau

Thu Bon




Tra Khuc

Tra Khuc









Quang Tri

Thach Han




Phu Oc










Note: NA- not available
Source: Central Committee for Flood and Storm Control, Vietnam

2.1.2 Response by Local Institutions

Tables 4 and 5 give an account of the daily flood situation, community responses and local institution actions during the 1-6 November 1999 flood in Quang Tri and Hue. Information was obtained from CFSC documents and from interviews in the study sites.

Table 4. Community responses and local institution actions during the 1-6 November 1999 flood, Quang Tri* (Word in italics - Action by Provincial Government Level)


Community activities

Government activities

Pre-disaster phase

17 May 1999

Provincial CFSC issued Instruction No. 9/1999/CT-UB, in conformance with the Prime Minister’s Instruction No. 7/1999/CT-TT on flood preparedness, assigning specific tasks to branches at all levels to draw up necessary plans to cope with floods.

31 May 1999

Provincial CFSC reported that all branches and levels have deployed active plans against natural calamity, conducted on site inspections and necessary repair/strengthening of reservoirs, dykes, dams and drains, and stockpiled materials for any unexpected breakdown of these structures. Tasks of local CFSCs have been divided, telecommunication systems and hydro-graphic station lines strengthened, rescue groups established, evacuation sites prepared.

August 1999

A month before the onset of the rainy season, people store food, water and salt.

20 October 1999
Heavy rains due to effect of tropical storm Eve

31 October 1999
Rains started

1 November 1999
Medium to heavy rains

Heavy rains predicted, but possible impact was not

Disaster phase

2 November 1999

Mean rainfall recorded was 100-200 mm (265 mm in My Chanh River)
Floodwater level on Ben Hai River at Giao Vong was at 8.91 m (0.91 m above Alarm Level II)
Floodwater level at Hieu River at Dong Ha station was at 2.97 m (alarm Level II)

Chairman of provincial CFSC received report of flooding in upstream mountainous area and went to check the situation. He ensured measures were taken to control the situation.


Floodwater level on Thach Han River at Quang Tri station was at 6.20 m (0.70 m below Alarm Level III)


Chairman came back to Dong Ha and found area already flooded. He immediately mobilized the provincial CFSC, deployed plans for flood control and gave instructions to district CFSCs for evacuation. Missions were sent to localities to directly deploy rescue plans.


Floodwaters start coming into houses. Families received warning and advised to evacuate. Most stayed put, thinking that flood will be of same magnitude as past events. Started raising paddy to elevated platforms. In Hai Hoa, residents observed that water level in the main river was still low.

Commune CFSC officials issued warning (by bells, loudspeaker, radio) about impending flood and advised residents to evacuate.


Wind was fairly strong, waves were high at coastal areas. People moved to sand dunes, commune/district halls and houses with upper floors, others to platforms close to ceilings of houses. Most brought basic items only thinking that they can return in 3 days.

Evacuation started, using small rowboats and rafts made from banana trunks.


Floodwaters rose to 1 m. In Hai Hoa, floodwaters came quickly, inundating the area up to 1.6 m deep.

Provincial CFSC informed CCFSC of situation and request for assistance

3 November 1999

Mean rainfall recorded was 300-500 mm, even over 500 mm in some areas

Floodwaters rose to about 2 m in most areas.
Those who stayed in their houses moved to top of roofs.
Villages isolated by strong floodwaters had to provide for food themselves.
Gio My was isolated for a week.

Rescue limited by current of floodwater.
Local CFSC provided food at evacuation sites. Distribution to villages isolated by strong currents was not possible.


Central government began to mobilize relevant ministries and departments to respond to emergency


Emergency supplies gathered at airports in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh for delivery by helicopters to flood-affected areas

4 November 1999

Food supply in isolated villages was running out.

Bad weather prevented airlifting of food. Central Government relief operations initially focused on Hue which was worst affected

5 November 1999

Relief supply received from helicopters

Provincial People’s Committee established a department to receive and distribute relief for affected households.

6 November 1999

Food aid received from commune CCFSC

Hanoi-Hue road passable. Improved weather condition allowed access for emergency aid from various NGOs. Working groups and armed forces from the province were sent to provide food and assistance to local people.

7 November 1999

Relief assistance received from NGOs

District and commune CFSCs found coordination of distribution difficult.

8-9 November 1999

People stayed in evacuation centers for a week

Post disaster phase

10 November 1999 onwards

Floodwaters receded.
Residents started to return to homes. Most found their paddy swept away or soaked. Others who found their huts swept away stayed with relatives. Neighbors helped each other in providing food. Rebuilding of houses was assisted by mass organizations (e.g. Youth Union).
In Hai Hoa, everybody took part in the cleaning up of their environs from mud, debris and dead animals. (There was enough time for post disaster activities as it was a month before the planting season.)

Water purification tablets were distributed to residents. Local CFSC provided bamboo, galvanized iron sheets. Army and police helped in cleaning up the environs. Provincial People’s Committee established a steering committee to direct immediate recovery of essential infrastructure, repair/reconstruction of damaged houses, recover production, prepare for winter-spring growing season, and ensure education for flood-affected children. Health department initiated environmental sanitation program

December 1999

Farmers planted half of their paddy fields with vegetables.

Gio Linh People’s Committee provided 10 tons of paddy and vegetable seeds.

Early 2000

Relief grant and borrowing from government and mass organizations, as well as informal sources enabled farmers to invest in livestock raising

In Gio My, the Central Government provided 1.2 billion VND (USD 80,000) fund for credit scheme at 0.3% monthly interest. Intensive vaccination of animals.

Note: * for verification

Table 5. Community responses and local institution actions during the 1-6 November 1999 flood, Thua Thien Hue*


Community activities

Government activities

Pre-disaster phase

31 October 1999
17:00 Rains started

1 November 1999
Medium to heavy rains

Residents did not expect the flood magnitude

Disaster phase

2 November 1999

Mean rainfall recorded was at 100-200 mm (884 mm in Aluoi)

Provincial CFSC officials mobilized. Information of impending flood disseminated to districts.
Hong Ha CFSC did not receive any information about impending flood, as communication system was very poor.

Floodwater level on Huong River at Hue station was at 5.38 m and continues to rise Floodwater on Bo River at Phu Oc station was at 5.00 m.
Most areas inundated. HMS announced that weather situation will continue to deteriorate

In lowland, evacuation to higher ground started.


People in lowlands started to move to house roofs

Rescue efforts began in the lowland


In Hong Ha, everything was washed away - food, clothes, all belongings, even houses were swept away.

Flash flood in Aluoi. Hong Ha cut off by washed away bridge. Commune CFSC mobilized.

Floodwater at Huong River at Hue station peaked at 5.94 m (1.06 m above historical flood level in 1983)
Whole province under 1-3 m of water

Rescue efforts in Hong Ha proved difficult as floodwater current was very strong. Entire communication system in the province was paralysed. Whole province without electricity

3 November 1999

Short respite in rain reduced floodwater level by 0.20 m


People in Hong Ha relied on whatever food was available - wet or floating. People didn’t have much choice.

Central government began to mobilize relevant ministries and department to respond to emergency

  • National Committee for Search and Rescue to send more than 30 boats and ships to Hue

  • Ministry of Defense to send emergency supply (life buoys, noodles, etc.) by helicopter to Hue

  • Ministry of Health to provide medicine

Floodwaters started rising again due to continuous rains upstream


Emergency supplies gathered at airports in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh for delivery by helicopters to flood-affected areas
Strong floodwater current caused difficulty in rescue and relief


Communication between Hue and CCFSC restored

Floodwater levels upstream fell by 0.4-0.6 m

4 November 1999


Hong Ha commune ran out of food

Ministry of Communication and Transport started clearing roads and railway.
In Hanoi, Fatherland Front coordinated food aid; VNRC donated USD 30,000; international organizations provided relief assistance


Only one helicopter with relief supply reached Hue City due to bad weather.

Floodwater levels on Huong River at Hue station fell to 3.81 m

Delegation appointed by the Government to help manage the emergency in Hue arrived.

Floodwater level on Huong River at Hue station rose to 4.14 m

5 November
1999 Floodwater level on Huong River at Hue station at 04:00 up to 4.36 m

Hong Ha experienced hunger

Hong Ha ran out of food; no external assistance coming. Commune CFSC Chair set on foot to Hue, 50 km away, to seek food and relief assistance.

6 November 1999
Floodwater level on Huong River at Hue station rose again

External assistance, particularly food, had not arrived.

CFSC Chair promised the provincial CFSC not to return until food and relief assistance to Hong Ha is sent.

7-9 November 2003

Food arrived 7 days after the flood.

Food and clothing air lifted to Hong Ha

Post-disaster phase

10 November onwards

Received rice support from the commune People’s Committee

Hong Ha People’s Committee, Party leaders and mass organizations continued to mobilize support for the commune

Note: * for verification

Role of mass organizations

Table 6 summarizes the activities of mass organizations in Quang Tri in response to the November 1999 disaster, and their important role in rehabilitation.

Table 6. Activities undertaken by mass organizations in Quang Tri during the November 1999 flood


Mass organization involved


1. Assist in dissemination of early warning

Farmers Association, Agriculture Cooperative

During disaster

1. Assist in evacuation

Farmers Association, Agriculture Cooperative, Red Cross volunteers, Youth Union

2. Participate in rescue operation

Farmers Association, Agriculture Cooperative, Red Cross volunteers, Youth Union

3. Tend to needs at evacuation centers (cook food, attend to the sick, etc.)

Women’s Union

4. Assist in relief operation

Red Cross volunteers

Post disaster

1. Assessment of social condition as basis for relief distribution and rehabilitation assistance/damage and needs assessment

Women’s Union, Agriculture Cooperative, Veterans Association, Red Cross volunteers

2. Repair/reconstruction of damaged dwellings

Farmers Association, Women’s Union, Youth Union

3. Assist in clean-up operation

Agriculture Cooperative

4. Extension of credit to members

Women’s Union, Agriculture Cooperative

2.1.3 Flood Impacts

The impacts of the November 1999 floods were most severe, as the floods came right after harvest, at a magnitude that was unexpected. For the lowland population, the largest blow to the household economy was the loss of and damage to rice that they had stored in their houses, depriving them of both food security and main income for the year. People lost between one and five tons of rice per household. The dike and canal system was damaged which caused increased insecurity in production. The second most important source of income, animal husbandry, was badly affected. Almost all households lost pigs and poultry in the floods and in the epidemics after the floods.

In the highland, though the floods were more flash flood in character, the inundation damage was still severe and caused large losses of garden crops, such as pepper, fruit trees and cassava. The loss of income from pepper constituted the largest loss for many households. Cattle died both in the floods and of diseases after the floods, which also undermined the resource base of many households.

In Hong Ha, Aluoi District, floodwaters transported sand and stone to the productive land. Paddies were worst affected, as they were the most low-lying land. In some places, over 2 m of sand and stone settled on the land. People spent many months digging to recover their fields. Two of the 16 ha of paddy could not be recovered from the stone. Loss of paddy had the most serious long-term impact.

The loss of growing cassava had the most serious short-term impact. Most of the cassava is grown on flat land close to the river, instead of on the hill slopes as previously. Most of the 20 ha of cassava were inundated, and the roots rotted and became inedible. Cassava is normally the main source of food during the seven months between the harvest of the autumn paddy and the spring paddy. After replanting, cassava was not available again until September 2000.

Banana is another important food crop damaged by the floods. The continuous rain also caused more banana pests (yellow leaf fungi) than normal. There were very few local sources of food until the rice harvest in June. The food security situation was thus more threatened by the 1999 flood than previous floods, as the hill land does not get inundated and damaged as badly as the flat land.

2.1.4 Household Coping Strategies and Capacity to Recover

Food security

The most pressing issue that households were faced with is access to food for the next six months until the rice harvest in April/May. Relief assistance from the Government and foreign organizations, in cash and in kind, enabled local CFSCs to extend assistance during the rehabilitation and recovery period. Rice support was distributed in several batches. The first delivery was distributed equally to all. Subsequent deliveries were distributed according to classification of households, conducted at village meetings, into three groups depending on how badly they had been affected by the floods. Each household received between 150-250 kg of rice, which lasted two to three months.

The remaining period before harvest was handled with a large degree of mutual support between the households. People lent or gave food to each other. Vegetables were planted immediately with seed support from the district. Many households, especially in the lowland communes, took loans of rice to be repaid after harvest.

In Hong Ha, the Hue University of Agriculture and Forestry provided seed support for planting various vegetables and beans. Because of the large effort required to recover the paddy fields, the winter- spring crop was not planted until March. This postponed the harvest period of the summer crop until mid-October. People were worried about not being able to harvest in time before the floods, but luckily there were no major floods in this area in 2000.


In the lowland communes, people have few alternative income sources to rice. Individual household efforts and the whole institutional structure are concentrated on securing the rice harvest. Recovery of rice production was supported by infrastructure investments, credit for inputs and subsidised seed from the district. People are very vulnerable to failures in rice harvest. There was hardly any surplus from rice production in 2000 because of the high production costs for drainage and replanting. Heavy rains in January and February caused inundation of the newly planted fields and people had to replant two, and in some areas even three times. The rice price in 2000 was lower than normal (1,200 VND/kg in Hai Lang). The crop in May 2001 was 30% down in quantity and quality because of heavy rains and flooding one week before harvest. It will probably take many rice harvests before people have recovered fully.

Almost all households immediately bought new piglets, either with relief grants or credit. There was however a very high level of animal epidemics after the floods. The pigs died, people invested again and the pigs died again. It took almost a year before the animal health situation had stabilised. This was despite intensive efforts by the veterinary services to vaccinate all animals after the floods. The environment was extremely polluted by manure, excrement and cadavers floating around. The army and police force helped people in a massive action to bury the animals and clean the environment.

A major part of household coping strategies in the hill land are related to securing access to land. Land available for production has decreased due to the floods and to restrictions on the use of the hill land. People used a patchwork of opportunities to supplement their paddy production. They collected firewood to sell or workied as day labourers. They borrowed from each other and used marginal areas, which are risk-prone and not meant for production.


Labour opportunities are an important part of the coping strategies of poor households. In the hilly areas, many poor households work as day labour for other households in the commune. It is easy to find work: in the rice harvest, digging fishponds, in forestry etc. The Bo River Watershed Management Board, under the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, allocated 58 ha of 172 ha designated for forest planting in 2000. (The rest is contracted to private individuals and organizations, who, in turn, contract households (also from other communes) to plant and tend the forest on a day labour basis.) Planting contracts are offered to the villages. All households in that village, who register for planting, can get a planting contract divided equally and according to labour capacity. The households who don't plant are mainly the ones who lack labour. As an advance for planting 300,000 VND/ha is offered, but people prefer one transfer of 1,068,000 VND/ha (about USD 70) later, in order to have funds for investment in something more substantial. After the floods, many people also went to work in the sugarcane areas in Thua Thien Hue province.

In the lowland areas, there are not as many day labour opportunities, except in the rice harvest, and the poor are often busy with their own rice. During the slack period between the crops, many people go to work in Khe Sanh in the rubber and coffee plantations, or migrate seasonally to take part in the coffee harvest in Dak Lak province.

Community work is not normally seen in the context of employment creation. Labour contribution to local investments is more often considered as the part that local people can contribute to infrastructure investments where the Government (and donor) contributes the fiscal support for material costs. Likewise after the floods, the Government provided material support for reconstruction and the community provided labour. In cases where labour is contracted for a salary, it is up to the construction company to hire the labour as they see fit. In many cases, migrant labourers from other provinces have been prepared to work for lower salaries than the local population.


The experience of the floods was most traumatic to the lowland population, especially to those who did not have anywhere to go when the water level rose right up to the roofs of their houses. The strong wind caused fierce waves, which made mobility difficult. A common reaction was to take out loans to repair and strengthen the houses, in order to feel less vulnerable to future floods. People with employment and a stable income obtain bank credit for housing. For the normal rural population who have less secure incomes, private loans are easier to access. These however have high interest rates and, if production after the flood is not stable, difficulties in quickly settling such debts arise. Housing assistance from the Government, the Red Cross and NGOs were extended to the most poor - the latter two supported the building of a few hundred new stable houses.


There were no epidemics among people after the floods, which was impressive. The district health centre, commune clinics and the Red Cross distributed medicine and disinfectants to purify the water. The clinics provided chemicals and monitored sanitary conditions. There is however a continuing health problem because of the polluted river water, which worsened after the floods. Neither of the villages in this study have clean water systems.


Education has not been seriously affected, despite significant material damage. Most families still kept their children in school, despite the difficult economic situation. The commune People’s Committee and the district Education Section jointly invested in the repair of school buildings and in the replacement of lost furniture and school materials. Teachers worked extra without pay to help pupils catch up the time they lost during the floods. Pupils shared books and helped each other to dry or replace wet books.

Table 7 lists factors that respondents said would contribute or limit their capacity to recover from disasters.

Table 7. Factors influencing capacity to recover from disasters in the study sites

Contributing factors

Limiting factors

Diversified income structure

Dependency on mono-culture of rice

Secure production conditions (e.g. good water control systems)

Risky production conditions (e.g. insufficient floodwater control systems)

Capital buffers (e.g. buffalo)

High levels of indebtedness through private loans with high interest

High sanitation standard for animal husbandry (no big disease problems)

A series of failed production investments because of diseases in animal husbandry

Possibilities of small daily income from collecting minor forest products

High household expenses, such as medical costs

Access to labour income

Being part of a cooperative with well-functioning input supply and credit

Compared to lowland communities, people in hill land communes generally recovered better from the floods. They have more diverse sources of income from forest planting, minor forest products, buffalo raising and day labour. These sources of income, spread out over the year, make them less vulnerable, minimizing the need to take private loans for sustenance.

2.1.5 Initiatives by Local Institutions for Rice Production Recovery


Immediately after the floods the Government made strong efforts at all levels to quickly rehabilitate production conditions and to provide possibilities for people to rehabilitate their economy. The primary strategy was to rehabilitate rice production. The water management infrastructure needed to be repaired in order to reduce risks of inundation on the lower fields and ensure irrigation on the higher fields. The district and province supported the repairs with funds for materials, and the villagers contributed labour. The most urgent infrastructure repairs have been done, but there are still major repairs and upgrading needed for long-term production security.

As soon as the floodwater receded, cooperatives and production groups held meetings to quantify losses and identify requirements for the coming production season, both for crops and animal husbandry. Seed supplies for the coming cropping season were the most urgent need. Leaders of the People's Committee and the Agriculture Section had to make several journeys to other provinces in order to secure the rice seed supply, especially since large areas had to be replanted several times. The Agriculture Section distributed seed and planting material for sweet potato, vegetables and other short-term crops. The People’s Committee plans to build the capacity of the Agriculture Cooperative to do this task.

Credit was provided to enable people to reinvest in production. The Vietnam Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (VBARD) allocated 20 billion VND (approx. USD 1.3 million) of credit to Hai Lang District, which was distributed as one-year credit with 0.3% interest for rice farmers for the short-term recovery of production. The decision to emphasize the short-term needs was partly an administrative convenience matter. The process of handling individual credit applications from 15,000 households at once would have been difficult. At commune level, the procedures were further simplified by the decision to distribute credit to each family, based on area of paddy land. This meant that almost everybody did access credit, including poor households who normally would have difficulties in obtaining bank credit. It however excluded people without paddy land, such as the fishermen in Van Tri village, and a few poor households who do not have paddy.

There was an expectation of additional funds for medium-term credit, which did not materialize. Such credit would have benefited the hill land communes, as they are dependent on long-term production investments for pepper, fruit trees, cattle and fish raising. Also people in the lowland communes need support to diversify production and income generation.

Agriculture Cooperatives

Many agriculture cooperatives have input supply services. They sign a credit contract with a supply company for fertilizer, which is delivered through the cooperative to the farmers, who pay after harvest. Production inputs for the winter-spring crop were needed in December-January after the floods. The State credit was not available until March 2000. The cooperatives were able to bridge that gap by buying inputs on credit contracts for delivery to farmers.

[5] Alarm Level I: Possible flood condition - River water level is high; threat to low height embankments; flooding of very low lying areas; infrastructure safe. Alarm Level II: Dangerous flood condition - Floodplain inundation expected; towns and cities still generally protected by flood defences; high velocity river flows pose danger of bank and dyke erosion; bridge foundations at risk from scour; infrastructure generally safe. Alarm Level III: Very dangerous flood condition - All low lying areas submerged, including low lying areas in cities and towns; safety of river protection dykes in jeopardy; damage to infrastructure begins. Alarm Level III+ Emergency flood condition - General and wide spread uncontrollable flooding; dyke failure a certainty and probably uncontrollable; damage to infrastructure severe.

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