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Vietnamese rescued from Philippine typhoon devastation return home to rebuild lives

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Dec. 7, 2013: A boy survivor carries a school bag as he walks by debris from damaged homes at typhoon ravaged Tacloban city, central Philippines. (AP)

Vietnamese diplomats have repatriated more than two dozen compatriots who lost their homes and businesses in last month's devastating typhoon in the central Philippines, where many of them have stayed illegally for years, an official said Sunday.

Consul Hoang Nghia Cang said that shortly after Typhoon Haiyan hit on Nov. 8, the diplomats discovered through informants that about 50 Vietnamese needed to be rescued in worst-hit Tacloban city and nearby towns wrecked by the huge storm. The Vietnamese did not previously inform the embassy of their presence in Leyte province, he said.

Many of the Vietnamese have overstayed their tourist visas and have lived as traders in a small community, with some marrying Filipinos, he said.

One of the most ferocious typhoons to hit on record, Haiyan left more than 6,000 people dead and about 1,700 others missing. Bodies continue to be found daily. The storm injured about 27,000 people and damaged and swept away more than 1 million houses.

Vietnamese Ambassador Truong Trieu Duong said he oversaw the daring rescue of the Vietnamese by two of his diplomats amid many dangers. Most of those rescued flew back to Vietnam on Friday and Saturday to rebuild their lives with the help of the embassy and Philippine immigration authorities.

"They lost everything. That's why they really want to go back to Vietnam," Truong told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

The rest decided to stay with Vietnamese relatives or their Filipino families in Philippine cities that were not battered by the typhoon.

Despite downed telephone lines and fully booked flights and ferries, two Vietnamese diplomats, including Hoang, managed to travel to Ormoc city in Leyte where they ordered their compatriots to gather. Some of the survivors walked the 60 miles from Tacloban to Ormoc, where the embassy delivered clothes, medicine and food, Hoang said.

Hoang and another diplomat later traveled to Tacloban to rescue two more Vietnamese families, passing through ruined towns where they saw strewn bodies, flattened villages and shocked residents walking aimlessly.

"We saved everybody on time," Truong said.