Over 60 feared dead after typhoon Molave slams into Vietnam

Yan Zhuang, The New York Times

Posted at Oct 30 2020 03:08 PM

Rescuers search for victims of a landslide in Quang Nam province, Vietnam, October 29, 2020. Vietnam News Agency via Reuters

A typhoon that slammed into central Vietnam has set off a series of landslides that buried villages and towns, left more than 60 people dead or missing, and compounded the misery of a country already struggling with catastrophic floods.

Typhoon Molave was one of the biggest storms to hit the country in two decades, bringing a second round of deadly landslides there this month. Torrential rains and flooding set off a mudslide Oct. 18 that leveled soldiers’ barracks in Huong Phung Commune, in the central coastal province of Quang Tri.

Officials said the deaths could be the country’s largest military loss in peacetime.

The typhoon, packing 85 mph (137 kph) winds, cut power to millions of people and damaged 56,000 houses, the Vietnamese government said.

By Thursday night, 21 bodies had been pulled from the rubble, according to the local news media and the Red Cross, citing information from officials on the ground.

The storm set off landslides in two districts in Quang Nam province Wednesday afternoon, state-run news outlet VnExpress reported.

At least 11 households were buried by rocks, including that of a government official, and 53 people were feared dead or missing. Twelve people were treated for injuries.

By Thursday afternoon, reports emerged that a third landslide had occurred the previous afternoon in a nearby district, burying an additional 11 people. About 200 workers at a hydroelectricity plant were trapped by the landslides, and authorities were attempting to get supplies to them.

In the neighboring province of Quang Ngai, about 20 workers were rescued after becoming trapped at a dam construction site overnight when torrential rain brought on by the typhoon caused the dam water to rise rapidly.

Two fishing boats sank in Binh Dinh province Tuesday night while trying to seek shelter from the storm, and 26 fishermen remain missing. Two navy vessels mobilized to find them, Reuters reported.

Rescue efforts at the site of the landslides were hampered by the bad weather.

“The road is covered under deep mud, and heavy rains are still lashing the area, but rescue work has to be carried out quickly,” Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung, who went to the district Thursday to direct the rescue efforts, said in a statement.

Before it moved west to Vietnam, the typhoon killed 16 people in the Philippines over the weekend, according to local news reports.

Scientists say that global warming is fueling more frequent and more catastrophic storms and flooding across the world.

In the United States, Hurricane Zeta lashed the Louisiana coast Wednesday with heavy rainfall and powerful winds that officials feared could pulverize parts of New Orleans as the storm made landfall with Category 2 strength. It is the fifth major storm to hit the state this year. 

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The Philippines is bracing for another tropical storm this weekend, with the country’s weather agency predicting that Typhoon Goni would hit the island before moving west, whipping up 137 mph winds. Officials are preparing evacuation centers.

Vietnam has been hammered by storms, heavy rains and floods since early this month, and more than 1 million people have been affected. The central coast has been devastated by widespread flooding over the past weeks, with at least 114 people killed this month. Hundreds of thousands of houses have been submerged in water.

Rapid development and deforestation have exacerbated the damage caused by seasonal flooding.

“This typhoon has brought further misery and hardships to hundreds of thousands of people in central Vietnam,” said Nguyen Thi Xuan Thu, president of the Vietnam Red Cross.

“Around 89,000 homes have roofs blown off, with many destroyed by this storm.”

Heavy rain of up to 27.5 inches will continue in parts of central Vietnam until Saturday, the country’s weather agency said.

Authorities, fearing further flooding, have evacuated more than 4,000 people in low-lying areas, according to local news outlets.

Rescue teams were stretched to their limits dealing with the ongoing disasters, according to Nguyen Hung Ha, program coordinator of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

“This massive storm is another crippling blow to millions of people already struggling to cope with some of the most dangerous floods on record in central Vietnam,” he said.