Death Toll From Floods Climbs in Vietnam, While Victims Plead For Aid in Cambodia, Laos

vietnam-aid-delivery-flooding-oct-2020-crop.jpg Local residents and volunteers deliver aid packages to residents affected by heavy flooding in Quang An commune, in Vietnam's Thua Thien Hue province, Oct. 20, 2020.
Yen Duong/International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC)/Handout via REUTERS

The death toll from flooding and landslides in Vietnam continued to rise Tuesday, while those hit by the disasters triggered by tropical storms in the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos criticized government inaction and made urgent appeals for assistance.

In Vietnam, at least 104 people are dead in the country’s central region, with 49, 27, and 11 deaths reported in the provinces of Quang Tri, Thua Thien Hue, and Quang Nam alone, according to the Central Steering Committee for Natural Disaster and Control. Twenty-seven people are missing, including 15 workers from a hydropower plant in Quang Tri that was hit by a landslide on Oct. 12.

The committee said that some 90,000 residents of Nghe An, Ha Tinh, and Quang Tri provinces have been evacuated to higher ground. Nearly 7,000 hectares of rice paddy and crop fields have been submerged, while more than 5,800 head of cattle and 685,000 poultry birds have been killed or carried away in floods.

Vietnamese state media on Tuesday reported that Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc approved the allocation of 100 billion Vietnamese dong (U.S. $4.3 million) and 1,000 tons of rice to the five worst flood-hit provinces of Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Thua Thien Hue, Quang Nam, and Ha Tinh.

Meanwhile, the National Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting Centre said a tropical depression in the Philippines has strengthened into what is being called Storm Saudel. Over the next 24 hours, Saudel is expected to enter the South China Sea—called the East Sea in Vietnam—and become the eighth storm to batter Vietnam’s central provinces since the start of the rainy season.

Tran Quang Nang, head of the weather forecasting department under the National Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting Centre, rejected reports circulating on Facebook, allegedly citing Japanese forecasters, that Saudel is a super typhoon.

“All of these predictions about Typhoon Saudel are baseless and fake,” Nang said. “The Japanese weather forecasting center and other countries have said no such thing.”

Nang called on the Central Steering Committee for Natural Disaster Prevention and Control to “punish” those responsible for spreading inaccurate information on social networks, causing public confusion.

“This issue should be handled promptly to ensure people only access accurate information released by the authorities so they can respond to natural disasters, helping to mitigate the damage they cause,” he said.

Workers salvage clothes from a factory through floodwaters on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Oct. 18, 2020.
Workers salvage clothes from a factory through floodwaters on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Oct. 18, 2020.
‘Worse than war’

In Cambodia, the death toll remained at 25 from a day earlier, with some 40,000 evacuated to temporary shelters, National Committee for Disaster Management spokesperson Khun Sokha told RFA’s Khmer Service. More than 200,000 hectares of paddy field and nearly 80,000 farms have also been destroyed, with more than 500 school buildings and 79 garment factories damaged.

Roads, hospitals, and dams have also been affected, authorities said.

In a notice issued on Tuesday, the Poipet Administration of Banteay Meanchey province, along Cambodia’s border with Thailand, temporarily closed portions of National Road 5. Downtown Poipet saw flooding of homes and roads, which the notice attributed to rains in Thailand.

Sann Ratha, a resident of Kaun Damrei village, in Poipet’s Sangkat Nimith district, told RFA that water levels increased so rapidly that several hundred families were forced to leave their homes.

He said people are stranded and in desperate need of food and other supplies.

“We are under the attack from the flood—our village looks like a river now with water everywhere and houses submerged,” he said.

“The current situation is worse than during the [1967-1975] civil war. We need the authorities to help us immediately.”

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen traveled to affected areas visiting with victims and handing out food. He said in a post to his Facebook page that he plans to spend two days in hard-hit Banteay Meanchey province, where 13 of the country’s 25 deaths have occurred and an estimated 20,000 families have been affected.

Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha is also traveling to Banteay Meanchey to provide assistance.

Din Puthy, head of the Poipet-based Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, expressed skepticism over the government’s handling of the flooding Tuesday.

He voiced concerns that authorities appear to prefer taking selfies with small numbers of villagers and posting them on social media to pretend they are helping the victims.

“The victims are not receiving equal treatment,” he said. “Only a few people have received some assistance while many others have been left behind.”

More aid needed

In Laos, where storms have ravaged Savannakhet province in the country’s center, authorities remained unable to access many areas due to damaged roads and a lack of boats to transport aid and other supplies, Lao sources said.

More than 125 villages in eight districts have now been flooded, with many houses and over 10,000 hectares of paddy fields submerged, official sources in the province say. Nearly 30,000 people have been impacted in Savannakhet, according to official count.

An official from Savannakhet’s inundated Phin district told RFA Tuesday that people are in need of dry goods, drinking water, medicine, and other necessities. The official said that while most aid had been distributed it still is not enough.

“In Phin district, 45 villages are heavily flooded, but they have received some help already—they mostly need sticky rice and consumer goods,” he said.

He said villagers with boats had been using them to help one another and that there have been no accidents during rescue and supply operations.

A villager in Phin told RFA that the water level is so high that the local river had flooded homes along its banks and urged authorities to provide more assistance.

“They have helped a little, but it’s very difficult for us,” he said. “Higher-level authorities should take care of this. We’re asking for more rice—all houses need rice to eat.”

Authorities in Savannakhet’s Xonbury district said waters remain high and will rise in days to come, forcing villagers to stay in clubs, schools, and other places set up by the local government as temporary shelters until flooding recedes.

According to the Meteorology Department at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Laos will continue to endure heavy rains and strong winds throughout the country in coming days. It urged villagers to remain vigilant for flash floods and landslides.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese and Khmer Services. Translated by Huy Le and Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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