Thu, Oct 01, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Historic Vietnamese tourist town faces flood challenge

AFP , HOI AN, VIETNAM

Hundreds of years of history have survived in the pastel-colored old buildings of Hoi An, which have managed to outlast wars and numerous natural disasters.

But the historic town, whose streets are normally packed with foreign tourists, was yesterday flooded by about 3m of water and could be facing its biggest disaster in a decade or more, officials said.

The picturesque narrow streets of tightly-packed old temples, shophouses, craft shops and restaurants were submerged in filthy brown water that some foreign tourists waded through with their belongings.

“This flooding might be bigger than the historic floods in 1999. We think the water could reach even 3.5m,” said Nguyen Su, Communist Party chief in the town which UNESCO named a World Heritage site a decade ago, the same year as the floods.

Hoi An, a former trading port dating from the 15th century, is along the coast in central Vietnam near the heart of the area devastated on Tuesday by Typhoon Ketsana.

One-third of the town has been inundated, said Le Van Giang, president of the Hoi An People’s Committee, or local government. He said the flooding could even exceed 1999 levels and match that of 45 years ago.

“We didn’t know a typhoon was coming, so we were stuck here,” said Jenny Milton, a German tourist who had just escaped by boat from the old quarter, where the first floor of her hotel had been flooded.

“People were very nice. We still had coffee and food and they organized stuff so we could get out,” Milton said.

Su estimated about 6,000 locals and foreign tourists remained in the town, but he said all had been moved out of the flood zone.

A local policeman was organizing boat trips to deliver food and water to residents still stuck in the old quarter.

Others were trapped on the metal roofs of their homes until soldiers arrived by boat to rescue them.

“We are trying our best, but we don’t know what will happen,” Su said.

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