Rains inundate Vietnam and China

More than 100 casualties are confirmed and tens of thousands of houses have been destroyed by flooding.

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BEIJING // A total of 140 people were confirmed dead yesterday in flooded areas of Vietnam and Indonesia, while tens of thousands have fled their homes in an island province of China as it suffers its worst rains in nearly five decades.

Forty-nine people have died in Vietnam in the past few days, with as many as 23 remaining missing, officials said. In the worst-hit province of Quang Binh, 20,000 were evacuated.

Tens of thousands of houses and thousands of acres of crops have been damaged in recent days according to the provincial flood and storm control department. Villagers were yesterday reportedly returning to areas where floodwaters had receded, despite the fact that more rains are expected, though they are not thought likely to lead to renewed flooding. "People are cleaning their houses and trying to put life back to normal," said Nguyen Ngoc Giai, an official in Quang Binh.

The death toll in Indonesia's West Papua province after a river burst its banks and engulfed houses in floodwaters and mudslides, rose to 91 yesterday, with more than 100 still missing, according to Dortheis Sawaki, head of the West Papua's relief operations' office. Clean-up efforts have begun in the village of Wasior, where residents were swept away earlier this week, although blocked roads and damaged bridges have compromised rescue efforts.

Meanwhile in China, 132,000 people have been forced from their homes after a southern island province was hit by its worst autumn rains for nearly 50 years, the official Xinhua news agency reported. More than 300mm of rain has fallen on parts of Hainan, an island popular with Chinese holidaymakers, during a week of downpours that caused severe damage to many of the island's roads. Officials reported two people were missing as more than 550 villages were submerged.

Reservoirs were forced to release their contents after water levels became dangerously high, adding to the flooding in nearby towns. Meteorologists were reported as saying this week's rains were the most sustained autumn downpour Hainan had received since 1961. Rescue efforts have been aided by more than 1,000 policemen and soldiers. Pictures released by Xinhua showed soldiers using speedboats to evacuate residents near the island's capital, Haikou, one of the four worst-hit cities.

Some of Hainan's tourist resorts, many of which had attracted visitors taking time off during China's week-long National Day holiday, which ends today, have been forced to close as a result of the floods. Thousands of hectares of crops have been ruined and sea services to the island were suspended earlier in the week, although they have since resumed. Meteorologists expect the rains to continue today, albeit at reduced intensity.

Hainan has in the past suffered from typhoons, with 170,000 people evacuated five years ago due to the strongest storm on the island for three decades. Hainan has been earmarked by the central government to be developed as a destination for international tourists, and property prices have risen steeply this year, only to fall back sharply as measures to curb the market took effect. The severe rains in Hainan are the latest in a series of flooding episodes to hit southern China this year that have killed hundreds and forced millions from their homes.

In the worst rain-linked disaster in the country this year, mudslides killed nearly 1,500 people in Gansu province in the north-west in August.

* With additional reporting by Associated Press and Agence France-Presse