By Dean Yates
HANOI (Reuters) - Widespread floods blanketed central coastal Vietnam Monday, killing more than 70 people and leaving one million in need of emergency assistance, officials and relief workers said.
They said that while more rains were forecast for the blighted region, it was too early to say if the impact would be as severe as floods that left a trial of destruction across central Vietnam one month ago and killed nearly 600 people.
But millions of people were still vulnerable and hundreds of thousands had already been evacuated to higher ground. An unknown number had been left homeless.
''This is a double whammy for central Vietnam. Communities were only just getting their lives back to normal,'' said John Geoghegan, head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Vietnam.
An official at the country's Disaster Management Unit (DMU) said one million people needed assistance, such as emergency food supplies and plastic sheeting.
He said the government was especially concerned about a key dam in Quang Nam province that had threatened to burst its banks. Some 1,500 soldiers were sand-bagging the dam, while thousands of people downstream had moved to higher ground.
Meteorologists said more rain over the next two days would lash the affected region, which stretches 650 km (406 miles) from Quang Tri province to Khanh Hoa province and is home to more than eight million people.
Death Toll Expected To Rise
The Vietnam News daily said the death toll from the floods would likely rise.
It said rescue workers had been unable to contact some 1,000 families who live in isolated areas that were hard hit by floods and landslides following days of torrential rain.
The military had been mobilized to take part in search and rescue operations, official media said, adding that parts of the national north-south Highway One and the main rail line through the affected provinces had been cut.
Many people had been caught off guard by the latest floods, although official media said rescue workers had moved quickly.
Last month's flooding in central Vietnam caused damage of $250 million and set the region's development back years.
The area is prone to flooding because of widespread illegal logging along a steep mountain range that lies not far inland.
Relief workers and officials said rice fields only recently re-planted had again been damaged, while temporary shelters erected following the last floods had been washed away.
Geoghegan told Reuters that the Red Cross would extend an international appeal launched last month to raise funds to help buy supplies and other emergency items.
Officials said light rains were also hitting nearby coffee plantations in the central highlands, disrupting harvesting of the current crop and the drying of beans.
Central Vietnam is the country's poorest region and does not make a major contribution to economic growth. Essential industry and agriculture are located mainly in the south.
However, the region boasts popular tourist spots from the former imperial capital Hue to China Beach in Danang, a favored playground of American GIs during the Vietnam War.
Vietnam, home to 79 million people, is a long narrow coastal nation that regularly gets hit by floods and typhoons.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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