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Twin storms drive Southeast Asia floods as a third approaches

‘Everywhere we look, homes, roads, and infrastructure have been submerged.’

Volunteers deliver aid packages to residents affected by heavy floods in Quang An commune, in Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam, on 20 October 2020.
Volunteers deliver aid packages to residents affected by heavy floods in Quang An commune, in Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam, on 20 October 2020. (Yen Duong/IFRC)

Severe floods and landslides, fuelled by a pair of tropical storms striking in quick succession, have caused “catastrophic” damage in parts of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. A third storm is projected to hit inundated central Vietnam within days.

The UN says more than 110,000 people have been pushed from their homes in the three countries, and authorities have recorded at least 130 deaths in Vietnam and Cambodia.

The brunt of the damage is in central Vietnam, where some 178,000 homes are submerged and at least 900,000 people are directly affected. Vietnam’s Red Cross reports flood levels are at their highest since 1999 in some areas.

“Everywhere we look, homes, roads, and infrastructure have been submerged,” Nguyen Thi Xuan Thu, who heads the country’s Red Cross, said in a press release.

The region is approaching the tail-end of the monsoon season when floods and landslides are common. But this month’s damage has been aggravated by storms Linfa and Nangka, which struck Vietnam days apart last week.

A third storm, Saudel, could make landfall in central Vietnam around 25 October, hitting areas still freshly flooded, after crossing Luzon, the Philippines’ largest island, on 20 October.

Asia’s various monsoon seasons have been unusually heavy this year, forcing millions to evacuate and killing hundreds in parts of India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. 

The weather has been particularly erratic in mainland Southeast Asia’s Mekong region. Even in July, where the monsoon season is usually in full swing, parts of Laos were still in extreme drought, and river water levels were unusually low in Cambodia.

Upstream dams are increasingly driving volatile water levels throughout the Mekong River system, environmental groups say. Climate change is also making severe weather more extreme and unpredictable. 

The extent of the current disasters are still evolving, but aid groups warn the damage could be far-reaching, further destabilising communities dealing with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.



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