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Relief efforts are improving in central Vietnam, which has long been afflicted by catastrophic floods.
DANANG, Vietnam — "Attention passengers. This is your captain speaking. We’re starting our descent into Danang, with heavy winds and rain. Things could get bumpy. As always, we thank you for flying with us."
Oops! They forgot to mention we’re landing in a typhoon. Of course, the news was spreading since we took off, but the cabin crew managed to feign cluelessness with their Barbie-doll smiles. What typhoon? You mean that drizzle out there? Ha!
The government had evacuated three nearby provinces, and on Monday afternoon the winds were already ripping through our village on China Beach, about 15 miles south of urban Danang. But on the ground, the locals didn’t seem to care much either. “Yes, just another storm, no worry,” laughed one motorbike repairman as he sluggishly nailed wood to his window. “Ah, storm. We in central Vietnam have many storm,” a sculpture merchant boasted. “Store still open.”
Indeed, with its long coastline and extensive river deltas, Vietnam is one of the countries most affected by natural disasters. Six to eight typhoons smack Vietnam each year on average and this year looks to be no different — except that the region has learned from past disasters and relief efforts are improving.
Boom! A sound jolted me awake in the wee morning hours of Tuesday — a tree had fallen outside my room and shattered a window. The guest house owner burst into my room. “We go downstairs now!” he shouted. Typhoon Ketsana had arrived.
Outside winds rip-roared through the alleyways, catapulting metal scraps dangerously close to my body. When the sun rose, I could better make out tree trunks and roofs littered around the roads, and the aluminum huts that had collapsed across the village. Ketsana continued through the day, peaking between 2 and 4 p.m.
The damage was staggering, but Ketsana affected our area lightly compared to the nearby areas. Hoi An, a small town 25 miles away from my area, was flooded up to my shoulders, with some houses completely submerged. In the central highland provinces of Quang Ngai and Quang Nam, relief workers reported entire villages were cut off due to the floods and tree trunks obstructing roads.
World Vision, a Christian aid organization, said in a statement on Wednesday that more than 5,800 houses had collapsed and 163,000 houses lost their roofs. The organization distributed 1,000 food aid packs to 5,000 people this week, but had difficulty reaching areas isolated by floods.