The Heat Is Online

Vietnamese 'calamity'

"VIETNAM SENDS MAYDAY FOR TYPHOON: 'CALAMITY' " by John Chalmers

HANOI (Reuters) Nov. 10, 1997 -- - Vietnam urged its neighbours on Saturday to join search and rescue operations for hundreds of fishermen who went missing after Typhoon Linda pounded the country's southern tip and waters last weekend.

Branding the storm "a calamity of the century", the Foreign Ministry told a news conference that it had appealed to embassies and international organisations in Hanoi for help with a disaster which has left tens of thousands homeless.

It also passed on a request from the Central Committee for Flood and Storm Control (CCFSC) for neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines to join its armada of vessels looking for survivors.

The CCSFC said that by early Friday afternoon, 304 people had been confirmed dead and 1,937 were still missing.

However, a Reuters tally of figures from 14 provinces affected by Linda's violent winds and torrential rain put the number of lives lost at 455 and the missing at over 2,500.

So far more than 3,500 people, many of whom clung to buoys or broken boat planks for days, have been plucked from the sea by patrolling ships or helicopters.

However, a disaster expert in Hanoi, who declined to be named, said more than half of those still unaccounted for would probably have died already.

The U.N.-sponsored Disaster Management Unit said the estimated cost of emergency food, medicine, clothing, shelter and sanitation needs in just four of the worst-hit provinces was $12.03 million.

A local newspaper on Friday said the storm, which damaged or flooded 226,000 hectares (558,000 acres) of ricefields with salt-water and wrecked 64,500 houses, caused an economic loss of some $400 million.

The United Nations said in statement that four of its agencies had made preliminary pledges of aid for Linda's victims totalling $255,000, most of it to assist the CCSFC in damage reporting, needs assessment and aid coordination.

Bilateral aid donations totalling $507,000 have rolled in from Switzerland, South Korea and Australia, while local organisations -- including the police, the post and telecoms agency, the railway union and a bank -- have sent money to the victims.

Vietnam is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, suffering river flooding, flash floods and typhoons between June and December every year.

However, the heavily-populated area which was buffeted by Linda last Sunday is not normally prone to typhoons and had not suffered anything on that scale since 1904.

Marshall Silver, Chief Technical Advisor of Flood Mitigation for the United Nations Development Programme in Vietnam, told the Foreign Ministry news conference the typhoon developed rapidly, leaving little time to warn fishermen out at sea.

The typhoon tracked west after hitting Vietnam, killing at least 34 people in Cambodia and Thailand. However, figures provided by officials in those countries on Thursday showed that at least 180, mostly fishermen, were still missing.

Late on Friday the typhoon was centred 400 km (250 miles) north of Port Blair, the capital of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in the Bay of Bengal and was moving northwards.

A senior government meteorologist in Calcutta said the storm may miss India and veer towards Burma and Bangladesh.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997