Storm continues South China Sea rampage

The Asia-wide death toll from Tropical Storm Chanchu rose to 91 on Friday, with nearly 250 Vietnamese fisherman still missing at sea and 28 reported dead as the tempest moved offshore again after battering southern China.

The 243 missing Vietnamese fishermen were involved in two separate incidents in different parts of the South China Sea after their vessels got caught in the storm. Ten boats sank in all, and five others were missing. Twenty-eight fishermen have been found dead and 61 have been rescued, Vietnamese officials said.

The storm has cut a path of destruction across several countries and territories around the South China Sea since it rose to typhoon strength and tore through the Philippines last weekend, killing 37.

Chanchu was downgraded from a typhoon on Thursday as it reached China’s heavily populated southern coast, but was still powerful enough to cause landslides and flooding and force the evacuation of more than one million people.

Storm-induced landslides and building collapses killed 15 people in Fujian province and left four missing, the provincial water-resources department said on its website.

Eight more died in neighbouring Guangdong province, it said, including a boy and girl and their 68-year-old grandfather, all crushed when their home collapsed.

Taiwan and northern Vietnam were also pummelled by the storm’s powerful winds and lashing rain, which mostly bypassed the seaport and financial centre of Hong Kong.

Vietnamese officials said 221 missing fishermen who departed from the central city of Danang are believed to be somewhere between Taiwan and the Philippines.
Sixty fishermen were found alive on Friday, and 24 bodies were pulled from the water, said Nguyen Ba Luong, a border-control officer in Danang.

Separately, the other group of fishermen—from Vietnam’s Quang Ngai province—is believed to be stuck in Chinese waters.

Twenty-two remain missing and four have been found dead. One was pulled from the water alive, said Nguyen Sau, of the Quang Ngai border control.

Details of the incidents remained sketchy on Friday because communication was limited.

In Taiwan, two women were swept to their deaths by floods in the southern region of Pingtung.

High waves also swept away three 17-year-old male students swimming in Japan’s southern Okinawa island chain, leaving one dead and another missing, said coast-guard spokesperson Shoji Kawabata. The third was rescued.

The storm was headed toward northern Japan on Friday. It would continue to weaken but bring heavy rain to Japan and possible flooding in northern Honshu island on Saturday, forecasting service Weather Underground said.

Chanchu caused scores of homes to be flooded in China, and officials moved more than one million people to schools and the homes of relatives in Guangdong and Fujian provinces. Nearly 100 000 ships were ordered to return to harbour, Xinhua said.

Fujian estimated storm damage at 3,8-billion yuan ($480-million), including damage to 9 600 homes and 856 600ha of crops. There was no immediate word on damage estimates in Guangdong.

Television news showed violent waves pounding sea walls along China’s coast. Reports said winds and rain damaged dikes, uprooted trees and brought down buildings along the Guangdong coast.

A Chinese rescue vessel deployed in the South China Sea saved eight sailors from a stranded Belgian-flagged freighter, and then came to the aid of 24 Vietnamese fishermen, the official China Daily reported.

The rescue ship, Dejin, reached the 1 000-ton Pompei on Thursday afternoon, a day after the freighter’s engines failed off the Pratas, or Dongsha, islands, the newspaper said, citing the government’s Salvage and Rescue Bureau. After bringing the crew on board and towing the Pompei, the Dejin went to help the Vietnamese, giving them food, fuel and water, the newspaper said.

Other details weren’t given, but the rescued Vietnamese appeared to part of the larger group of Vietnamese sailors that reached safety on the island.

Chanchu, which means “pearl” in Cantonese, headed out to sea shortly before midnight on Thursday, just south-east of the commercial hub of Shanghai, which on Friday enjoyed unusually fresh breezes and clear skies.

TC Lee, an official with the Hong Kong Observatory, said Chanchu was the “most intense” typhoon on record to strike in the South China Sea in May, an early month in the annual cyclone season.

Lee said the early arrival of the year’s first typhoon does not necessarily portend an unusually active storm season, and said the observatory forecast an average year of six to eight typhoons affecting the territory.

But a Chinese meteorologist quoted by Xinhua, Ding Yihui of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said the storm appeared to be a sign of increasingly extreme weather events, phenomena some scientists have linked to rising global temperatures.—Sapa-AP

Associated Press reporter Christopher Bodeen in Shanghai, China, contributed to this report

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