POSTED: 10:08 p.m. HST, Oct 17, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 10:31 a.m. HST, Oct 18, 2010
HANOI, Vietnam >> Surging currents sucked a bus off a flooded highway and swept away 20 of its passengers, including a teenager taken from his mother's arms, as flooding caused 30 other deaths in Vietnam and a monster Typhoon Megi loomed offshore Monday.
Eighteen other people from the bus, including the driver, escaped by swimming to safety or clinging to trees or power poles, said Nguyen Hien Luong, head of Nghi Xuan district in Ha Tinh province. They were later rescued by fishermen and police, but 20 remained missing.
A woman holding her 15-year-old son treaded water for 3½ hours as the current dragged her 2 miles along the Lam River. But the 46-year-old was forced to let go of him due to exhaustion before she was rescued. The boy, who could not swim, was among three missing children.
The bus was traveling from the central highlands province of Dak Nong to the capital when it drove through about 2 feet of gushing water and was knocked off balance around 4:30 a.m. on Monday, Luong said. Many passengers were jolted awake when the bus began to tilt sideways, state-controlled media reported.
"I heard people screaming that the bus was being swept away. I looked out and it was all water," the online newspaper Bee.net quoted survivor Ha Xuan Toa as saying. "People smashed windows to get out, but only one window was broken and we got out one by one."
About 500 soldiers, police and fishermen searched for the bus and possible survivors. Those remaining on the bus were presumed dead, Luong said.
Elsewhere in central Vietnam, heavy rains killed at least 30 people and left three others missing.
Disaster officials said Monday up to 31.5 inches of rain had pounded the region in a few days, forcing 126,000 people to flee their homes. About 300 soldiers have been deployed to rush instant noodles, rice and water to people affected by the floods.
The country's north-south rail service was interrupted after the tracks were submerged, forcing thousands of travelers to transfer onto buses.
Central Vietnam is still recovering from severe flooding earlier this month, which killed 66 people and left 17 missing.
"People are exhausted," Vietnamese disaster official Nguyen Ngoc Giai said by telephone from Quang Binh province. "Many people have not even returned to their flooded homes from previous flooding, while many others who returned home several days ago were forced to be evacuated again."
The current flooding was not linked to Typhoon Megi, which was crossing the northern Philippines on Monday. Its next landfall is expected in Vietnam or southern China, but the track is uncertain.
Giai said many houses were severely weakened by the floods and the typhoon's winds could flatten many homes if Megi does strike Vietnam.