Ha Tinh (Vietnam) (AFP) - Typhoon Doksuri wreaked havoc on central Vietnam Friday, lashing the coast with fierce winds and heavy rains as tens of thousands were evacuated and three people were reported dead in the country's worst storm in years.
Trees and billboards were torn down and thousands of homes damaged as the storm made landfall Friday, causing flooding and power outages along a large swathe of coastline.
"The roof of my house was blown off and all the bricks are gone. Here at my small shop, cakes, candies, bread and noodles are all wet," Phan Thi Lan, a vendor in badly hit Ha Tinh province, told AFP.
"I don't know how I'll ever have enough money to fix our house," she said, as rain pounded down.
Roads were mostly deserted in Ha Tinh province, though emergency vehicles were seen speeding toward the coast, according to an AFP reporter at the scene. Elsewhere in the province, a large telecommunications tower collapsed, reported state-run Vietnam Television (VTV).
More than 79,000 people were evacuated across the four provinces expected to be worst affected, the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority said.
Those who remained in the area fled desperately for safety.
"I have never seen such a bad storm. The roof of my house was blown away and the houses of many of my neighbours were also damaged. I ran here to the petrol station," construction worker Nguyen Van Tai told AFP.
- Safety first -
Vietnam's central coast is routinely lashed by storms, especially during tropical storm season from May to October. But disaster management officials predicted that Doksuri would be the worst to hit Vietnam in a decade.
By midday Friday more than 5,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in Quang Binh province, where one person was also reported killed, according to the province's deputy chairman Le Minh Ngan, speaking on VTV.
Another man died in Hue province when a river swept him away following heavy rains, officials said. A third was killed after he was knocked over by heavy rains in Ha Tinh province, according to state media.
The storm packed wind speeds of up to 90 kilometres per hour (56 miles per hour), and was expected to weaken throughout the day as it moved toward Laos, according to the Vietnam National Hydro-meteorological Service.
Officials earlier said they were still moving people from their homes and had ordered boats ashore.
"The number one priority is ensuring people's safety," Agriculture Minister Nguyen Xuan Cuong said on VTV.
Several flights to the area were cancelled Friday, and most schools were closed as residents hunkered down.
"The kids stayed at home and there's not much in the markets. I bought enough instant noodles for the family, so I think we're good," Nghe An resident Nguyen Thi Hue, 58, told AFP.
The Vietnam Red Cross Society said it was donating $45,000 and sending essential supplies to the area along with volunteers to help affected residents.
The government said Thursday it had a quarter of a million soldiers on standby along with a fleet of vehicles and boats at the ready.
The Southeast Asian nation has already been hit by severe weather this year, with 140 people dead or missing in natural disasters since January, according to official figures.