Typhoon kills 44 in Vietnam, flooding fears
HO CHI MINH CITY, Dec 5 (Reuters) Typhoon Durian swept into southern Vietnam killing at least 44 people, sinking hundreds of fishing boats and damaging houses, days after it killed hundreds in the Philippines, government officials said today.
Weather forecasters said the storm, which has winds up to 120 km per hour and heavy rains, took an unpredictable turn to strengthen and hit low-lying provinces of Vietnam's Mekong Delta rice-basket, raising concerns of severe flooding.
Durian, named after a strong-smelling spiky Asian fruit, could remain a typhoon for the next day, forecasters said.
State-run Vietnam Television showed footage of collapsed houses, fallen trees and electricity pylons as people struggled in wind and rain. The Mekong Delta and Ca Mau peninsula of southern Vietnam rarely experience strong tropical storms and typhoons.
The storm was forecast to push westward toward Thailand, the Malaysian peninsula and into the Andaman Sea.
Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung, in charge of coordinating storm preparations, warned provincial leaders not to underestimate the strength of the typhoon.
''All provinces should prepare so that we do not have another Linda,'' Hung said on state-run Vietnam Television, referring to typhoon Linda in November 1997 in which there were 600 known deaths and 2,123 never accounted for in southern Vietnam.
Today, the Vietnam national flood and storm control centre said in a report that Typhoon Durian killed at least 44 people and 19 were missing. The report said 18,812 houses were damaged or destroyed and 858 boats sank.
The deaths were reported in five provinces -- Ba Ria Vung Tau, Ben Tre, Binh Thuan, Vinh Long and Tien Giang -- and on the outskirts of commercial hub Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnamese authorities evacuated tens of thousands of people from vulnerable south and central areas before the arrival of Durian, which slammed into the Philippines one notch below a category 5 super-typhoon on Thursday.
Today, disaster officials raised the toll to 526 dead and 740 missing in three regions of the Philippines hit by Durian, the fourth typhoon in three months. Durian affected more than 1 million people in the archipelago.
Disaster officials said nearly 300,000 houses were destroyed while agriculture and infrastructure damage were estimated at 608 million pesos (.25 million), devastating large swathe of hemp and coconut farms in the central Bicol region.
Winds and torrential rains from Durian sent walls of mud and water crashing onto rural communities surrounding Mount Mayon, an active volcano about 320 km, south of Manila.
Supplies were slow to arrive in Albay pro vince, the worst-affected region, and residents, fed up with waiting, dug for cooking utensils and clothes buried under thick volcanic sludge, radio reported.
REUTERS PDM BS1657