Anguished relatives listened to the radio communications of rescuers searching Saturday for nearly 200 Vietnamese fishermen whose boats sank during Typhoon Chanchu.
Chanchu, the most powerful storm to strike the South China Sea this early in the typhoon season, killed nearly 90 people in Asia over the past week. It has since weakened to a tropical storm, hovering off southern Japan on Saturday.
The 198 missing fishermen were in two groups of boats caught earlier this week in different parts of the South China Sea. At least 24 have been found dead, authorities said. More than 60 survived.
“It’s been several days. I think the chances of survival of the missing fishermen are very slim,” said Tran Van Huy, director of Danang’s Fisheries Department.
On Saturday, Chinese state media said a Chinese rescue ship saved 97 Vietnamese fishermen in the South China Sea, and continued to search for others. It was unclear if the 97 fishermen were among those reported missing in Danang.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency also reported that the rescue ship recovered 18 bodies.
Le Thi Hue said she last spoke to her husband by radio Wednesday as his boat tried to dodge the typhoon near Taiwan. Nguyen Ut Thanh, an experienced captain, told his wife, “Don’t worry. Everything’s OK.”
But the next morning she was unable to contact the boat, which sank with 33 people on board. At least eight bodies have been recovered, but Nguyen remained missing.
Relatives and friends sat on Le’s kitchen floor in Danang, listening to radio communications between Vietnamese boats searching for the missing fishermen hundreds of miles away.
Le said her husband spent up to 10 months a year at sea and has survived past bouts of bad weather. Local officials said rising fuel prices and other coasts have forced fishermen to spend longer periods at sea and sail into deeper waters to boost their catch.
Path of destruction
Chanchu first struck the Philippines last week, killing 37 people. It weakened to tropical storm as it hit China on Thursday, but landslides, flooding and collapsing buildings still killed at least 23 people and left four missing.
Earlier this week, high waves in southern Japan killed a teenager and left another missing, said coast guard spokesman Shoji Kawabata.
Flooding in southern Taiwan swept away two women.
T.C. Lee, an official with the Hong Kong Observatory, said Chanchu was the most intense typhoon on record to strike in the South China Sea in May, an early month in the annual typhoon season.
Lee said the early arrival of the year’s first typhoon did not necessarily portend an unusually active storm season. He said the observatory has forecast six to eight typhoons this season, an average number.
But Ding Yihui, a meteorologist with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said the storm appeared to be a sign of increasingly extreme weather, the Xinhua News Agency reported. Some scientists have linked increasingly extreme weather to rising global temperatures.