Death toll rises in Vietnam after Typhoon Molave triggers widespread flooding, landslides

Maura Kelly

After forging a path of destruction over the northern and central Philippines and strengthening over the South China Sea, Typhoon Molave brought its deadly impacts to Vietnam from Wednesday into Thursday, inflicting more damage in a country that has been battered by numerous landfalling tropical systems since the beginning of the month.

As of Thursday evening, local time, the death toll has risen to 35 and at least 50 people are still missing, according to state media. The death toll is expected to rise in the coming days as search and rescue missions continue and communications with more remote villages are restored.

Soldiers and villagers dig through mud after a landslide swamps a village in Phuoc Loc district, Quang Nam province, Vietnam, on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. Three separated landslides triggered by Typhoon Molave killed over a dozen villagers and left dozens more missing in the province as rescuers scramble to recover more victims. (Lai Minh Dong/VNA via AP)

A dozen of those killed by the typhoon were sailors of two fishing vessels that sank while trying to seek shelter from the powerful typhoon. According to VnExpress International, the vessels sank near the province of Binh Dinh on Tuesday night.

While strong winds from Molave created treacherous conditions across the western South China Sea, heavy rainfall caused deadly landslides across central provinces.

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Military officers, who were put on standby by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ahead of Molave's arrival, scrambled to three villages where three separate landslides were responsible for killing at least 19 people and are suspected of burying more than 40 others in thick mud and debris, The Associated Press reported.

Homes and roadways in parts of Tra Van village, Tra Leng village and Phuoc Loc district were buried under the landslides. Officers used bulldozers and excavators to help clear gain access to the affected areas and begin rescuing victims, The AP said.

Four more residents were killed in Quang Nam province, a tourist draw for an ancient town and Hindu temples, by falling trees and collapsed houses, The AP reported. More than 130 people have been killed in the central Vietnam province since the beginning of October following the tumultuous weather pattern that has brought a relentless series of tropical storms and typhoons.

Typhoon Molave is the fourth named tropical system to make landfall over Vietnam this month, and officials are calling this the strongest storm to hit the country in the last 20 years, The Associated Press reported.

Molave made landfall just prior to midday Wednesday, local time, according to VnExpress International, unloading torrential rain and damaging winds across the typhoon-weary nation.

At landfall, the typhoon had the equivalent strength of a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale in the Atlantic and East Pacific basins. Molave lost some wind intensity just prior to landfall after spending some time with the equivalent strength of a Category 3 major hurricane.

Ahead of the storm, officials were preparing to evacuate 1.3 million residents along the coast of central Vietnam, according to Reuters. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc also urged provinces in the typhoon's path to prepare by bringing boats ashore.

This satellite image shows Typhoon Molave closing in on the Vietnam coast on Wednesday morning, local time. (CIRA/RAMMB)

Molave is the fourth named tropical system to make landfall over Vietnam since Oct. 11, according to AccuWeather Lead International Meteorologist Jason Nicholls. It is also the country's sixth landfalling storm this year.

Fierce winds were already beginning to whip ahead of Molave's landfall, with a local news agency reporting nearly 82,000 customers had lost power in the province of Phú Yên by Wednesday morning, local time.

As of Wednesday evening, local time, Molave had lost enough wind intensity that it was designated a tropical storm over western Vietnam.

Molave first developed into a tropical depression to the east of the Philippines late last week and was given the name Quinta by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration. Molave is the name used by the Japanese Meteorological Agency for the part of the basin that falls under the agency's purview.

Residents wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus wade through a flooded road from Typhoon Molave in Pampanga province, northern Philippines, on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. The fast-moving typhoon has forced thousands of villagers to flee to safety in provinces. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

The storm quickly strengthened into a typhoon with sustained winds of 120 km/h (75 mph) before making its first landfall over San Miguel, Philippines, on Sunday evening, local time. This is equivalent to a Category 1 hurricane in the Atlantic and East Pacific tropical basins.

Widespread rainfall totals of 100-200 mm (4-8 inches) were reported in the northern and central Philippines. More than 120,000 people have been displaced by the storm, and at least eight are missing.

As of Friday morning, local time, the typhoon is being blamed for at least 22 deaths in the Philippines.

As recovery efforts continue, all eyes will be on the strengthening Typhoon Goni, also known as Rolly in the Philippines. Residents impacted by Molave in the Philippines are likely to face impacts from Goni this weekend.

Goni could go on to bring more tropical downpours and gusty winds to Vietnam next week.

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