Typhoon Conson becomes a tropical storm after leaving dozens dead in Philippines, 2 in China

BEIJING (AP) — A typhoon that left dozens dead in the Philippines and two in China weakened to a tropical storm as it churned toward northern Vietnam on Saturday, smashing boats in its path and lashing the region with rain and wind.

It was expected to make landfall before dark. Authorities said more than 170,000 people were being prepared for evacuation.

China's state-run Xinhua News Agency said several Vietnamese ships had been wrecked off islands in the South China Sea, but there was no immediate word on whether anyone had died. It quoted a maritime affairs official on the southern resort island of Hainan, hit Friday, as saying rescue efforts were under way.

A man answering the telephone in the maritime bureau said he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Typhoon Conson, China's first typhoon of the year, roared in from the Philippines, where the death toll continued rising Saturday to 65, with 87 missing.

Xinhua said a falling billboard killed a motorcycle rider after the storm brushed Hainan, and another toppled and buried a security guard under debris.

By 8 a.m. Saturday, Hainan's meteorological station said Conson was moving northwest over open water again and had downshifted into a strong tropical storm. It was expected to hit northern Vietnam by afternoon or evening and was moving at 12 miles (20 kilometers) an hour.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has urged authorities in 23 northern and central provinces to ban ships and fishing trawlers from sailing.

"People in coastal villages and places of high risks of flash floods and landslides in 11 mountainous districts have been told to be ready for evacuation at any time," said Nguyen Trong Hai, a disaster official in Thanh Hoa province.

He said authorities were planning to move 137,000 people from high-risk areas in the northern province.

The national floods and storms control department said another 10,000 were being evacuated in three other northern provinces. An official in the port city of Hai Phong said 19,000 people from coastal districts were being moved, as well as 1,200 people on the island of Cat Hai.

In the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino III scolded the weather bureau for failing to predict that Conson would hit Manila, which left government agencies unprepared for the onslaught.

As the storm moved northwest, the southern areas of China's manufacturing-heavy Guangdong province and the neighboring Guangxi region were expected to see torrential rains. But Conson was not expected to hit areas in China already battered by weeks of flooding.

Flooding and landslides in communities along the Yangtze River and other scattered parts of China have killed more than 130 people so far this month, and Xinhua reported that flooding and landslides killed at least 11 people Friday in the central province of Hubei.


Associated Press writers Jim Gomez in Manila and Tran Van Minh in Hanoi, Vietnam, and researcher Henry Hou in Beijing contributed to this report.