Asia typhoon kills 104, hundreds missing in Vietnam
HANOI, May 20 (Reuters) - A typhoon that swept through the South China Sea has killed more than 100 people, officials said, as rescuers from Vietnam and China extended their search on Saturday for more than 400 fishermen missing since Wednesday.
Typhoon Chanchu, the strongest on record to enter the South China Sea in May, the start of the storm season, left a trail of destruction in China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
It killed at least 37 people in the Philippines last weekend, and by late Friday rescuers had found the bodies of 44 Vietnamese fishermen. They drowned after their ships were caught in Chanchu's path.
The typhoon, with winds of up to 170 km per hour (106 miles per hour), killed 23 people in China after it slammed into the southern coast on Thursday.
Eight fishing ships sank 1,000 km (621 miles) east of Vietnam's central city of Danang, while eight remained missing. Rescuers had found 26 bodies and rescued 81 others, the government said in a statement.
"However, the number of missing fishermen and the ships remains huge," Prime Minister Phan Van Khai said in an urgent telegraph carried by state-run Vietnam Television.
The Fisheries Ministry listed more than 400 fishermen as missing from Danang city and the nearby provinces of Quang Nam and Quang Ngai, the state-run television said.
Tran Van Huy, director of Danang's Fisheries Department, told Reuters that at least 97 people were unaccounted for.
On Danang coast on Saturday, relatives of the missing fishermen erected altars with flowers and fruits. Weeping women burnt joss-sticks to pray for their beloved ones to return.
Vietnamese officials said the toll could rise further when fishermen who have taken shelter on Chinese islands return home. They may bring with them news of others missing presumed dead.
A Chinese rescue ship saved 97 Vietnamese fishermen in the South China Sea but it also found 18 bodies, China's Xinhua news agency quoted the China Rescue and Savage Bureau as saying.
Natural disasters, especially storms and floods, claim the lives of several hundred people in Vietnam each year, especially during its storm season between May and October.