Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Storm may skirt Vietnam's coffee, thousands at sea

HANOI, May 5 (Reuters) - A tropical storm developing off Vietnam's central coast is steering away from the country's coffee belt but the lives of more than 4,100 fishermen now in the path of the storm are at risk, the government said on Tuesday.

Storm Chan-Hom, the first detected in Vietnam's waters this year, was in the Spratly Islands, about 300 km (190 miles) east of Khanh Hoa province as of early Tuesday, according to Tropical Storm Risks.

Chan-Hom, named after a kind of tree in the Lao language, was heading slowly north-northeast, and was on a path that would take it over the northern Philippines by Friday, according to Tropical Storm Risks.

Vietnam's National Centre for Hydro and Meteorology said Chan-Hom was packing winds of up to 102 km (60 miles) per hour. It was an early storm, as Vietnam's storm season often begins in July or August.

Khanh Hoa province lies east of Vietnam's Central Highlands coffee belt, where early light rains have been helping farmers cut watering costs. But heavy rains could cause newly formed cherries to drop should a storm hit the region directly.

By late Monday, more than 4,100 Vietnamese fishermen were at sea between the Paracels and the Spratlys in the path of Chan-Hom, which could change its course and possibly cause larger damage, the Vietnamese government said in a statement.

Chan-Hom's course could be complicated because of Storm Kujira, which emerged off the Philippines on Sunday and was heading toward Japan, the statement quoted Bui Minh Tang, head of the national weather centre, as saying.

Flash floods and landslides triggered by heavy rains dumped by Kujira have killed 20 people and left three missing in the Philippines, the country's disaster agency said on Monday. [ID:nMAN482705]

Vietnam needed to take precautions because Chan-Hom's course was similar to that of storm Chanchu, which killed more than 100 people and left several hundred fishermen missing in the Philippines, China and Vietnam in 2006, Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat told a government meeting on Monday.

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