Vietnam has deployed heavy machinery and hundreds of soldiers to search for survivors buried under landslides triggered by torrential rains from Typhoon Molave, one of the strongest typhoons to hit in the region in decades.
Twenty-one people have been killed and dozens more were feared dead on Thursday after a typhoon tore through central Vietnam a day earlier, triggering landslides in the central province of Quang Nam and causing some of the worst destruction seen in years.
Rescue efforts were hampered by bad weather at the tail end of the storm and tens remained missing, a government statement said.
“We can forecast the storm path or the amount of rain, but can’t predict when landslides happen,” Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung said in a statement.
“The road is covered under deep mud and heavy rains are still lashing the area, but rescue work has to be carried out quickly.”
Nineteen bodies had so far been pulled from the mud across three hard-hit villages in Quang Nam province, state media reported. Authorities said another 45 people were believed to be buried in the area.
Two people were killed earlier as they tried to protect their homes from the typhoon.
Since early October, Vietnam has been battered by storms, heavy rains and floods which have left at least 130 dead. More than one million people were already “in severe danger and in need of relief” before the latest typhoon hit, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC).
The fourth big storm to hit Vietnam within a month, Typhoon Molave ripped off roofs, uprooted trees and left millions without electricity in the central region, according to local media. More than 89,000 homes were damaged, the IFRC said in a statement on Thursday.
Twenty-six fishermen also remain missing after their boats sank when trying to return to port on Tuesday and two navy vessels had been mobilised to find them.
“The people of Vietnam are tough, yet this is among the worst destruction ever seen in many areas,” Nguyen Thi Xuan Thu, president of the Vietnam Red Cross Society said on Wednesday. “The relentless storms and flooding are taking a devastating human toll, further destroying livelihoods and isolating millions of people.”
She added: “All our hard work in containing the social and economic fallout of COVID-19 is being undone by these massive storms hitting us one after the other.”
The IFRC has launched an appeal for $4.2m to help those affected, saying that at least 150,000 people were at immediate risk of food shortages and hunger after flood waters destroyed thousands of hectares of crops and killed more than two million cattle and poultry.
The back-to-back storms have stretched relief teams to the limit, it added.
Molave weakened to a tropical depression after making landfall on Wednesday and is expected to reach Laos later on Thursday.
Heavy rain of up to 700 millimetres (27.5 inches) will continue in parts of central Vietnam until Saturday, Vietnam’s weather agency said.
Hoang Phuong Thao, executive director of ActionAid Vietnam, said the typhoon had brought more death and destruction to communities already “torn apart by the worst flooding we’ve seen in decades”.
Vietnam is prone to natural disasters in the rainy season between June and November, with central coastal provinces commonly impacted, but the storms have noticeably worsened in recent years.
The Red Cross said the storms were “yet another example of the devastating impact of climate change”.