Vietnam floodwaters recede, but toll rises

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HANOI, Oct 8 (Reuters) Floodwaters receded and some Vietnamese villagers returned to homes today that had been submerged by five days of storms and flooding that killed up to 77 people.

A compilation of reports from authorities in 15 northern and central provinces showed 77 killed and 14 others missing since Typhoon Lekima hit on Wednesday night, triggering landslides and some of the worst floods since the mid-1980s.

Officials reported finding more bodies as waters receded.

''People are telling us they have not seen flooding like this in a generation,'' said Joe Lowry of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies after visiting Thanh Hoa and Nghe An about 150 km south of Hanoi.

''Preparations were made for the storm, but they didn't take the flood warnings seriously enough,'' Lowry said.

In the Thach Thanh district of Thanh Hoa, where a dyke on the Buoi river broke, water levels dropped sufficiently for people to return to their houses today and help with the clean-up, a Reuters photographer reported.

The underdeveloped Southeast Asian country of 85 million faces up to 10 storms a year that cause millions of dollars in damage and kill hundreds of people.

Preliminary reports said nearly 58,000 houses were damaged or destroyed in this disaster. Estimated damages were at least 2.1 trillion dong (130 million dollars).

Two million people were affected in Thanh Hoa and Nghe An, home to more than six million people, according to the Vietnam Red Cross and government officials.

In Thanh Hoa, wells supplying fresh water were submerged.

Maintaining sanitary conditions and the threat of water-borne diseases were among the difficulties that people faced.

''Our focus now is to deal with environmental pollution,'' Nguyen Cong Thanh, vice minister of natural resources and environment, told state-run Vietnam TV.

Mudslides closed roads and thousands of electricity lines were felled, isolating villages in several mountainous areas.

The IFRC said it was preparing an emergency appeal to buy 500 tonnes of rice, kitchen sets, water jars, mosquito nets and blankets for more than 12,000 families.

Over the weekend, stricken villagers received medicine, bread and instant noodles dropped by helicopters or delivered in boats.

REUTERS PD RK1635

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