An aerial picture shows Hue city submerged in floodwater caused by heavy downpours in central Vietnam on Oct. 12. (Photo: Hoang Anh/AFP)
Heavy storms lashed Indochina over the weekend, triggering landslides, leaving provincial cities underwater and displacing more than 100,000 people with at least 29 dead and more heavy rains forecast over the coming days.
Vietnamese state media reported at least 18 people had died in that country’s central provinces and a further 14 were missing, while reports out of Cambodia said at least 11 people had died in floods.
However, information out of Laos was almost non-existent with official state media failing to mention the storms at all, although satellite imaging showed the tiny landlocked country took a direct hit.
Torrential rains grew worse after a cold front clashed with a tropical depression and formed into Storm Linfa, which made landfall over Quang Nam and Quang Ngai provinces in Vietnam on Oct. 11. The depression headed southwest, reaching Phnom Penh late in the day.
Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defense mobilized more than 9,600 soldiers, police officers and civilian volunteers, with some flood-hit areas, including 100,000 homes, under four meters of water.
In Phnom Penh, floods several meters deep were reported, aggravated by rotting garbage which had piled up in recent weeks amid a long-running strike by rubbish collectors who work for Cintri (Cambodia) Ltd. Some 200 workers out of 2,150 have returned to work.
“In response to flooding, ministries and sub-national administrations have to take steps to protect residents in villages. They must do whatever it takes to rescue residents and keep property damage to a minimum,” Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said.
The Khmer Times quoted Lao Sampor, deputy director of the Banteay Meanchey provincial information department, as confirming that a 10-year-old girl and two elderly people were among the dead. Another was reportedly killed by a lightning strike.
He said a pregnant woman was rescued by the Infantry Brigade 53 of Military Region 5 in Battambang and that she delivered the baby on a boat as her house was flooded and she could not access a hospital. She was sent to hospital afterwards.
In the capital, residents posted hundreds of photos online showing the streets of the capital laden with plastic rubbish bags amid the floods. This had raised fears that blocked sewage pipes could back up and cause an outbreak of disease.
“Tuol Tom Pong had up to one meter of water in some streets last night,” one resident said from the Phnom Penh suburb. “First time in years we’ve seen this level of flooding.”
The Mekong River Commission was forecasting rises of 2-3 meters in water levels along the Mekong River over the coming week which, despite the havoc, should provide some relief for farmers and fishermen who have suffered from a two-year drought.
Bryan Eyler, director of the Stimson Center Southeast Asia Program, said Phnom Penh had been cut off from access for water to flow into wetlands inside and surrounding the urban areas.
This followed massive landfills by property developers over recent years and the construction of skyscrapers across the city.
A damning report by human rights and land rights groups released in July found a multibillion-dollar satellite city on the outskirts of Phnom Penh was threatening to pave over vital wetlands and unleash untreated sewage into the Mekong River.
It said this would put more than one million people at risk of dangerous floods and water pollution and further threaten to upend the livelihoods of hundreds of people.
“[Water has] nowhere to go now but back up through the toilets ... of course some elites will argue that Mekong flood control is needed but this has nothing to do with the Mekong and everything to do with urban drainage problems,” Eyler said.
Agence Khmer-Presse reported that the north and eastern provinces of Battambang, Pursat, Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey, Preah Vihear and Kampong Speu were worst hit, with schools, rice fields, administrative offices and other infrastructure inundated. At least nine bridges were destroyed and major highways cut.
The National Committee for Disaster Management and other authorities were distributing aid relief to affected people, while heavy rains, strong winds and high waves are forecast for coastal areas.
According to Vietnam’s National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting, another tropical depression was brewing over the South China Sea and was expected to intensify into this year’s seventh storm in Vietnamese waters.
Vietnam is often hit hard by floods and landslides at this time of year. Last year storms killed 132 people and injured 207 in Vietnam, but the ferocity of weekend storms in Cambodia was rare.