Typhoon kills at least 41 in Vietnam; Floods could reach the historic highs of 1964

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Typhoon Ketsana headed west toward Laos Wednesday after battering central Vietnam with powerful winds and heavy rain, leaving behind blue and sunny skies but dangerously rising flood waters. The official death toll was placed at 41, but officials said that number was expected to rise as more reports came in and as floodwaters threatened further destruction.

“The rain was heavy and the wind was like crazy,” said Nguyen Trong Tung, a photographer, describing the scene in a telephone call from Danang. “Right now the sun is beautiful, there are white clouds and the sky is blue and the streets are already clear.”

The clear weather is deceptive and the danger has not passed, said Andrew Wells-Dang, a representative of Catholic Relief Services, who called Ketsana “the most serious typhoon that’s hit here in four or five years.”

“The casualty figures will get worse over the next days as more reports come in and also as the river levels rise from rain up in the mountains that will cause more flooding,” he said in a telephone call from the capital, Hanoi. The floods could reach the historic highs of 1964, said Le Van Duong, a relief and disaster mitigation coordinator for World Vision, speaking by telephone from Danang.

The storm was already weakening as it headed toward Laos, weather stations reported. “The system is expected to completely dissipate over land within the next 12 hours as it continues to track to the west,” said the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

The damage in Vietnam was far less than in the Philippines, where the typhoon was reported to have caused 246 deaths and inundated the homes of nearly 2.3 million people. More storms were reported to be heading toward the Philippines Wednesday.

Official reports said some of the worst damage in Vietnam was in the central highlands, where flash floods and mud slides took at least 13 lives and did serious damage to the country’s coffee growing industry. Flooding receded Wednesday in the ancient capital of Hue and the preserved town of Hoi An, which are popular with tourists.

Many foreign visitors had been trapped in Hoi An, some doubling up in hotel rooms as water rose on the lower floors. Others were sequestered in luxury hotels on China Beach in Danang. Vietnamese television showed Westerners in rain coats wading through the waist-deep water in Hoi An, taking pictures of each other.

“I had to jump from the second floor of a hotel to get into a boat,” said Mr. Trong, the photographer, who visited Hoi An Wednesday. “People were trapped in their homes and the police and army were bringing them instant noodles and water.”

Hardest hit were the provinces of Quang Nam, Thua Tien Hue and Quang Tri, according to the government. Four other provinces were also affected, including Kon Tum in the central highlands.

The storm damaged nearly 170,000 homes as well as crops and irrigation systems, the government said. It said 350,000 people had been evacuated ahead of time in a well-practiced drill in this disaster-prone region. The most destructive flooding in central Vietnam in recent years came in late 1999 when 750 people were left dead or missing.

In recent years Vietnam has experienced more frequent and powerful typhoons and floods, the United Nations Development Program said in a report last year.

After Tuesday’s typhoon passed in central Vietnam, some areas shown on television looked like vast brown oceans with rooftops and trees poking above the water. Technicians were shown struggling to repair power lines and power stations to restore electricity. Officials waded knee-deep through water to inspect the damage.

In Danang, the country’s fourth-largest city, damage appeared relatively light given the force of the storm, with fallen trees scattered on the streets and electric lines down but with houses and roofs intact, according to witnesses and television footage.

Much of the damage came along the coastline, where many houses were washed away and thousands of people were forced to shelter in schools and public buildings, said Mr. Duong, the World Vision coordinator. He said thousands of people were evacuated along the coast and many of their houses were swept away as waves crashed ashore.

Television footage showed uniformed officials delivering food supplies to people huddled in damp and darkened homes, their faces lighted by flashlights as they thanked the government for its help.

Published: September 30, 2009

Source: The New York Times

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