Vietnam mobilizes half a million people as Bebinca gets close

As of Thursday morning, the center of the tropical storm was around 170 kilometers (105 miles) off the coast off Mong Cai in the northern province of Quang Ninh, carrying maximum wind speeds of 90 kilometers per hour, according to the National Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting Center.

The storm is expected to travel westward at 10 kilometers per hour and make landfall in the northern region -- from Thai Binh to Thanh Hoa Provinces -- in the early hours of Friday morning before weakening into a low pressure zone.

Weather experts say northern Vietnam and the north-central delta should expect heavy rainfall and gusty winds until Saturday. Hanoi will be in the area with heavy impacts, as many downpours with rainfall of up to 300mm each have been forecast.

In Quang Ninh Province, which is home to the popular Ha Long Bay, officials have suspended all night cruises.

Border and coast guards from Quang Ninh down to Quang Binh Province in the central region have also ordered mass evacuation of fishing boats, fish cages and watch towers to safer areas.

“No ships and fishing boats are operating in flood-prone areas,” said a representative from the Office of Vietnam"s National Committee for Disaster Response and Search and Rescue Operations.

Vietnam’s defense ministry has called for the mobilization of more than 500,000 people - soldiers, members of the police force and civilian volunteers, to stand ready to help residents in storm-hit areas.

Around 2,700 vehicles, including 35 vessels, 1,570 cars and others have been mobilized to evacuate residents in case of emergency.

Flooding has been warned in the delta area, and landslides and erosion in the northern highlands.

Storm Bibenca rages over Vietnam waters on Thursday morning, as shown in a satellite image from the National Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting Center.

Storm Bibenca rages over Vietnam waters on Thursday morning, as shown in a satellite image from the National Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting Center.

Nguyen Xuan Cuong, head of the disaster prevention committee, said Wednesday that concerned agencies should take urgent measures to ensure safety of residents in storm-prone areas.

He asked provincial leaders to stay in contact with fishing boats, evacuate residents to safety and make plans to limit damages caused by the storm.

The northern coast includes busy marine economic zones like Quang Ninh and Hai Phong, which are heavily reliant on fishing and vulnerable to floods and landslides, Cuong said.

This is the fourth storm to form this year in the East Sea, also know as the South China Sea. Two other storms, Yagi and Leepi, have formed in the South China Sea now.

The third storm, Son Tinh, which hit northern and central Vietnam last month, triggered floods and landslides that killed at least 27 people.

Vietnam was struck by a record-breaking number of 16 tropical storms in 2017 that left 389 people dead or missing and injured 668 others, mostly in northern and central regions. The General Statistics Office estimated damage at around VND60 trillion ($2.64 billion), 1.5 times the previous year’s figure.

Damrey, one of the most destructive storms last year, hit Vietnam in November and killed at least 106 people.