In Hanoi, we’re always being warned about possible devastating storms on their way to us, but by the time they reach us they’ve pretty much fizzled out and we’re just left with drizzly rain, nothing particularly unusual here.
And yet, on 5th June 2014, when there actually was something pretty powerful, we were given no warning.
Thank God I wasn’t at home like I usually would have been. I had agreed to cover some hours at work in the early evening, and my boyfriend was working himself. From the window I could see that it was raining, but nothing particularly concerning (there were many huge, old trees ripped out of the ground and lying all over the roads around Hanoi, but we hadn’t seen these at this time).
As I finished work at the same time as my boyfriend, he picked me up and noticing there was no power in the area (another common occurrence), we decided to go straight out for dinner instead of going home.
Luckily, he decided last minute that he wanted to change his shoes, as they were pretty wet so at home, I waited for him downstairs while he walked up the five flights of stairs to our apartment. He was taking a while, and eventually he shouted, pretty calmly:
”Come here a minute”
Me: “Why? What’s happened?”
So I slowly, nervously started making my way up the stairs not knowing what was going on, and as I got further up the stairs I saw that there was water coming down. I started panicking thinking we’d flooded,
Me: “have we flooded?”
”…It’s worse than that”
In my head I was thinking “Oh God, we’re going to be knee-deep in water, everything’s going to be ruined” (Not sure why I thought that considering we were on the top floor…)
I slowly opened our door, and everything hit me really slowly….. so, Ok it’s pretty windy…. I look at the balcony……the balcony door’s open. Oh wait, the door’s not there. Oh wait, it’s on the floor and smashed glass is everywhere….I slowly move round to the bedroom area. It’s raining and windy and I CAN SEE THE SKY! THE ROOF HAS GONE! WHERE HAS THE ROOF GONE!?
There are bricks on the bed along with parts of the ceiling and the ceiling fan! Wires are everywhere. WHERE HAS THE ROOF GONE!?
The whole bedroom area has been turned upside down, all of our items thrown around everywhere, being drowned in the rain. The window was hanging off.
Due to the shock I couldn’t press the right buttons on my phone to call the landlord, I called a few friends who came and helped us rummage through the mess to find our stuff in the dark using our phones as torches. Eventually, our landlord sent her handy man round who came with a couple of screwdrivers… I’m not really sure what he was expecting but he definitely hadn’t come prepared. Instead, I think in panic, he just started fixing the door on one of our cupboards that had been broken for a few weeks… not really top on our list.
With the help of our friends, using our old-school Nokia phones as torches, we salvaged our dripping clothes and electronics, packed what we could into our wet backpacks and headed to a hotel nearby. By this time it was midnight, we were exhausted and upset.
The following day we heard nothing from our landlord, and noone came to meet us or call us to see if we were OK, or discuss what we should do now. To this day, our landlord has never even seen the damage herself, despite her office being less than 5 minutes away. My passport was damaged, and as I was going away in a couple of weeks, I had to buy an emergency one, and then buy another one when I returned, none of which she agreed to compensate. For our damaged electronics, we were told “you should have insurance” (we do, but that’s not the point… this was YOUR fault for housing us in an unsafe building!).
She also refused to pay for our second night in the hotel… I had expected her to ring us the following morning and meet us at the house when we went back to see the damage in proper light. Instead, I had to ring her myself at about 5pm to ask her what the hell we should do/where we should go, and she said she would have to try to work something out. In the end she accommodated us in a room above her office, but as check-out at the hotel was 11am, we had to pay for an extra night – which she refused to do so, saying that she had to pay the neighbours $3000 in roof damages and so refused to reimburse us $38, saying we should have found a cheaper hotel (not really something on our minds at the time to be honest).
Luckily, we were both OK. Things could have been a lot worse if we were home – especially if this had been while we were sleeping. And we’ve learnt a few things from the experience too:
1. It’s important to make sure you have a good landlord with a good contract before you rent a house, no matter where in the world you are
2. It’s important it is to establish how safe the house is to live in