Viet Nam

Misery sets in as central Vietnam buckles under flood toll

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Hanoi (dpa) - A window of better weather has allowed central Vietnam's battered populace to begin tallying the damage wrought by the second disastrous flood to hit the region in as many months, officials and aid workers said on Wednesday.

Misery is the recurring theme throughout the 650-kilometre-long stretch of mountains, rice fields and coastline which has been under water for a week after torrential rains were unleashed on the region.

Provincial authorities said 132 people have now died in the floods, and casualties are expected to rise as dozens remain missing and reports filter in from isolated communities that have not seen emergency aid or rescue missions since the deluge began.

The Central Committee for Flood and Storm Control estimated the losses at 362 billion dong (26 million dollars).

The death toll is not expected to reach that of last month, however, when 600 people died and 250 million dollars in damage was caused in central Vietnam's worst flooding of the century.

But the shock of a second natural disaster in as many months may prove to be too much for hundreds of thousands of luckless residents.

Hundreds of thousands are in immediate need of food and water. Temperatures are dangerously low for the region, and to make matters worse, a tropical depression over the Philippines is threatening Vietnam with more rain later this week.

''They are in a terrible state,'' said John Geoghegan, country head for International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

''For many it doesn't make that much difference,'' Geoghegan continued, noting that some of the 750,000 estimated homeless from the fresh flooding had already lost their homes in November.

''When you lose everything, you can't lose any more,'' he said. But for thousands barely surviving on the margins, who had just replanted their crops a week earlier and were looking to ride out 1999 without further setback, the flooding has brought abject misery.

''These people really do not have any coping mechanisms left,'' said Marshall Silver of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

''Now they will be food dependent for at least two planting seasons. It's catastrophic,'' he told Deutsche Presse-agentur, dpa.

Storm officials reported 28,793 hectares of paddy ruined or damaged and 10,000 tonnes of foodstock waterlogged or washed away.

Pham Dinh Phuc, director of the aid coordination committee in the hardest hit province of Quang Ngai, where 62 people have died, recalled a scene of misery and ruin.

''We have to repair everything. Roads, irrigation, rice fields, everything,'' Phuc said.

The UNDP's Silver said agriculture in Quang Ngai and neighbouring Quang Nam had been devastated, with river erosion claiming thousands of hectares of precious irrigation land.

''There are going to be even more food shortages here,'' he said. ''Once the river takes land away that's been there 300 years, it's irreplaceable. The land is gone.''

And by losing the just-planted winter-spring crop, it may be nine more months before the affected fields will produce any more rice.

Quang Ngai families questioned by relief officials about how much they expected to pay for rice answered with blank stares, he said.

''Most of these families have never had to buy rice,'' Silver said. Geoghegan said that nature's ''double whammy'' has plunged some communities deep into depression.

''They had a bumper crop just a month and a half ago. Things were looking good,'' he said. ''And now, two floods on top of each other.''

A number of communities have been completely wiped out, Geoghegan said. ''With 50 out of 50 houses washed away, some villages are sitting around asking, what do we do?''

He said local authorities are better prepared to conduct relief efforts this time round after streamlining procedures a month ago.

Thousands of soldiers continue to ply the waters in the region, distributing emergency supplies, conducting search and rescue operations, and evacuating residents to higher ground.

''For the moment we can rely on emergency relief supplies,'' said Phuc of Quang Ngai. ''But in the long run it will be very difficult.'' dpa mm js

AP-NY-12-08-99 0107EST

Copyright (c) 1999 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 12/08/1999 01:07:35

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Copyright (c) dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH