Curfew, evacuation as Vietnam rushes to prepare for Storm Molave

People across central Vietnam have been reinforcing homes and evacuating a day ahead of Molave’s expected landfall, protecting themselves from the strongest storm to affect Vietnam this year.

Ngo Quang Tuan left work Monday morning to return home and secure his roof with plastic bags filled with water. The truck driver in Quang Nam Province heard Molave would hit central Vietnam with a maximum wind speed of 150 kph, so he wasted no time preparing for its eventual onslaught. It was still sunny that day.

"I used to use sand bags to secure the roof and prevent it from being blown away by the wind. But sand has been rare these days, so I switched to plastic bags and water," Tuan said, adding the cheaper method had worked in previous years.

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Ngo Quang Tuan secures water bags on his roof ahead of Molave's landfall, October 26, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

That afternoon, local broadcasting stations across Quang Nam, home to ancient town Hoi An, persistently reminded people of the incoming storm and warned them to reinforce their homes, with some even pruning their trees ahead of Molave's arrival.

In the neighboring Da Nang, environmental workers have been pruning trees along coastal roads since Monday afternoon. People in Son Tra District have also collected sand into bags and brought them home to secure their homes.

Nguyen Xuan Minh, 27, said he and his sister bought 20 bags and collected sand about a kilometer away from their house to help reinforce their old roof. He has also bought instant noodles as emergency supplies, in case the storm prevents him from leaving his home.

At the Tho Quang fishing port, people either anchored their boats or brought them ashore to be taken away to shelter.

In Quang Ngai, the scene is similar.

Truong Van Dai, whose house is right next to the beach, said the coast is constantly threatened by strong waves triggered by storms. Upon hearing Molave stood a high chance of making landfall in the area, he and his family also went to the beach to collect sand, even using poles to secure their home.

Tieu Viet Thanh, head of a village with around 200 families or 600 people, said authorities have made plans to shelter people in cultural houses and vocational schools.

Le Ca, who lives in Duc Loi Commune, was worried to hear about storm Molave as he lives right by the beach. Two days before the storm’s expected landfall, he had bought ropes to secure his roof.

"My whole family has prepared to be evacuated," he said, adding those like him are always the first to feel the impacts of storms and high tides.

Nguyen Hong Thai, the military head of the commune, said militia members have been dispatched to help people collect sand bags and move belongings to safety.

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A man in Quang Ngai Province use sand bags to secure his house roof, October 27, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Linh.

Many boats in the region have also been moved to shore for safety.

Bui Van Hao, a fisherman in Quang Ngai, said: "This storm is projected to be really strong, so anyone who has small boats must secure them on shore."

"There were storms in previous years but they weren’t too strong, so boats didn’t have to be brought onto the shore," he said as he instructed people to let down his boat in a parking space about 100 m into the shore Tuesday morning.

His colleague Bui Cong has wrapped nets around his belongings, before bringing them home. Other objects like machinery and flags were also taken out of the boats.

"Throughout the last 30 years of working at sea, I feel this storm would be a really powerful one, so I have to prepare well in advance. Each boat is worth around VND20 million ($862), so if they’re damaged it would be quite a loss," said the 60-year-old man.

In the nearby Phu Yen Province, many fishermen have also paid crane trucks to lift their boats onto shore.

Tran Tuan, 53, said his boat was built two years ago for VND150 million, so he's willing to pay a crane truck VND150,000 to move it to safety.

"It's the biggest asset in my family. I must secure it so I can continue using it to make a living after the storm," Tuan said.

The boats are tied carefully to shore and covered with canvas.

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Le Tan, a 46-year-old fisherman, pulls the string as his boat is lifted onto shore in Phu Yen Province, October 27, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc.

Vietnam is set to evacuate over 1.2 million people in coastal and riverine areas before the storm hits.

Around 450,000 people in Thua Thien-Hue, Da Nang, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh have been evacuated further inland on Tuesday.

Bui Ngoc Anh, chairman of Tam Ky in Quang Nam, said all 5,000 people in coastal communes along Tam Thanh beach have been evacuated by Tuesday noon. About half of them would go to relatives’ houses, while the rest would be sheltered in schools or border guard stations.

"Authorities would prepare rations, sticky rice cakes, instant noodles and water for those sheltering from the storm," said Anh.

Le Tri Thanh, chairman of Quang Nam, has urged evacuation in areas with small reservoirs managed by districts that are deemed unsafe.

Hydropower systems must bring water levels in reservoirs to the lowest possible levels within 36 hours to be safe, Thanh said.

Nguyen Van Quang, secretary of Da Nang Party Committee, said Molave is expected to be very powerful and has a complex trajectory, requiring authorities to devise effective measures to prepare for it.

By Tuesday noon, Da Nang People’s Committee had requested people to not leave their houses starting 8 p.m. Tuesday and urged all officials and workers to not come into work on Wednesday, among other measures in preparation for Molave.

Storm Molave, which entered the South China Sea, known in Vietnam as the East Sea, Monday morning, is expected to make landfall in localities between Da Nang and Phu Yen within the next 24 hours, according to the National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting. Before entering the South China Sea, it had wrecked havoc in the Philippines, leaving at least three dead and 12 missing, and forcing around 9,000 to be evacuated, Reuters reported.

Molave will be the fourth storm to hit Vietnam this month, and the strongest storm since the beginning of this year.

At least 130 have lost their lives to floods and landslides in the central region due to stormy weather the past three weeks.

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