HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A typhoon that officials said was the most powerful to hit Vietnam in 20 years blew away from the country on Thursday after setting off landslides, sinking boats and knocking out power to at least 1.7 million people. At least 35 people were killed and more than 50 were missing, state media said.
The immediate focus for rescuers was on three villages in the country’s central region where landslides killed at least 19 people and are suspected of burying more than 40 others in thick mud and debris.
Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung traveled to the site of one landslide where soldiers were working to clear debris with bulldozers and he ordered officers to urgently send more troops to help with the efforts.
“We must reach the landslide site the fastest way. First, send in more soldiers before we can get the big machine there. We have to reach the area by all means, including by using helicopters,” he said.
Also among the dead were 12 fishermen whose boats sank Wednesday as Typhoon Molave approached with winds of up to 150 kilometers (93 miles) per hour. Another 14 fisherman were still missing.
Officials said the death toll across the country may rise as some regions have been unable to report details of damage and casualties.
Rescuers dug up eight bodies Thursday morning in Tra Van village in Quang Nam province where a hillside collapsed on houses. The victims had taken shelter in the community as the typhoon approached, the official Vietnam News Agency reported.
In Tra Leng village, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Tra Van, another landslide buried a community with several houses occupied by about 45 people. Four people escaped, while rescuers recovered eight bodies and later pulled out four villagers alive, including two children, who were trapped in a buried house, Vietnam News said.
The survivors pulled from the thick brown debris were brought to a hospital with arm and leg fractures and other injuries. Rescuers continued a frantic search for at least 33 others believed to be buried.
Tra Leng was initially inaccessible due to damaged roads, flooding and other landslides but by Thursday afternoon government disaster-response teams were able to open up a road with bulldozers and excavators and brought in more rescuers and heavy equipment.
As troops scrambled to rescue those buried alive in Tra Leng, another part of a rain-soaked mountainside cascaded down in a torrent of mud in nearby Phuoc Loc district, killing three people and trapping 11, Vietnam News said.
Other villagers in Phuoc Loc were advised to flee to safety given the unstable mountain slope.
The three landslide-hit areas lie in the mountains of hard-hit Quang Nam province in a coastal region still recovering from floods that killed 136 people and destroyed hundreds of houses earlier this month.
Quang Nam, a tourist draw for an ancient town and Hindu temples, is about 800 kilometers (500 miles) southeast of Hanoi.
Elsewhere, four people were killed by falling trees and collapsed houses in Quang Nam and Gia Lai provinces when the typhoon slammed into the coast Wednesday.
Navy search and rescue boats found the bodies of 12 of 26 fishermen whose boats sank Wednesday off Binh Dinh province, state media said.
The typhoon blew off roofs of about 56,000 houses and caused a massive blackout in Quang Ngai province, where 1.7 million people endured the onslaught of the typhoon overnight in darkness, according to Vietnam News.
At least 40,000 people were evacuated to emergency shelters and authorities shut down offices, factories and schools to prevent casualties.
The typhoon left at least 16 people dead in the Philippines before moving across the South China Sea to Vietnam.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.