China, Vietnam evacuate thousands as storm strikes

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HANOI, Oct 3 (Reuters) China and Vietnam evacuated hundreds of thousands of people from low-lying coastal areas today as Typhoon Lekima, packing winds of up to 120 kph blew in from the east.

The typhoon made landfall late yesterday near China's beach resort of Sanya, on the southern tip of tropical Hainan island, trapping tourists and forcing the evacuation of over 225,000 residents.

Vietnam, meanwhile, started moving children and old people to higher ground in the first steps of a plan to evacuate over 400,000 people before Lekima hits its central coast.

Over 20,000 fishing boats were ordered back to port as the storm shut down almost all tourist attractions in Sanya during what should have been a peak national holiday week.

Lekima, which weakened to a tropical storm when it hit Hainan, changed course, returned to sea and gathered strength for an assault on Vietnam. It is expected to make land late today or early tomorrow.

The centre of Lekima -- the Vietnamese name of a fruit -- was 100 km (60 miles) east of the central province of Ha Tinh, but high waves and rain were already pounding the coast in Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces.

More than 3,000 passengers and some 1,200 cars were stranded in Hainan yesterday as ferries linking the island province with the Chinese mainland were suspended because of the typhoon.

TOURISTS STUCK INDOORS ''The tourists are still unable to go outdoors today because the rain remains heavy,'' a receptionist surnamed Qiu at the Hilton Hotel in Sanya told Reuters by telephone.

''We have offered them some indoor activities like surfing on the Web as diversion,'' she said.

In Vietnam, an area stretching more than 300 km (190 miles) between the provinces of Thanh Hoa and Quang Binh faced ''extreme danger'' and people would have to be evacuated, the government said in a report.

Soldiers and disaster officials helped move children and the elderly to school compounds in Thanh Hoa, 150 km (90 miles) south of Hanoi, while fishing boats anchored in sheltered rivers, a Reuters reporter travelling to the region said.

The national weather centre said the storm centre would arrive by tonight and Lekima would weaken into a depression as it moved inland to the northwest.

The government also warned of landslides and flash floods in the central provinces.

The storm, which killed five people in the Philippines at the weekend, will not hurt coffee and rice crops or crude oil production, Vietnam's key export products, which all lie hundreds miles further to the south.

Vietnam often faces up to 10 storms a year and Lekima is the fifth in 2007.

Another could be on the way.

Tropical storm Krosa has evolved into a typhoon on the west Pacific today and is expected to hit Taiwan and China's east coast over the next few days.

The mid-strengh typhoon will reach the east coast of Taiwan on Saturday, the island's Central Weather Bureau said on its website (http://www.cwb.gov.tw/).

REUTERS SKB HS1453

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