Hoi An, Vietnam, Nov 6, 2017 (AFP) - At least 49 people have died after Typhoon Damrey slammed into central Vietnam, disaster officials said Monday, as heavy flooding cast doubt on a planned retreat for APEC leaders' spouses to the ancient town of Hoi An. The weather system hit just days before Vietnam welcomes world leaders to the APEC summit in Danang and has left several areas totally submerged in the worst flooding in years. While Danang itself has not been seriously affected, heavy flooding has hit Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its unique blend of buildings, some dating back to the 15th century. Large swathes of four central and southern provinces were submerged on Monday, officials said, with the death toll likely to rise further as the search for at least 19 missing people got under way. "We're facing a major threat in all the affected areas, all the lakes and rivers are full," Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Xuan Cuong said at an emergency meeting on Sunday, according to state-controlled VNExpress. He said flood levels were close to surpassing records set 1997. Some 30,000 people were evacuated and around 116,000 properties have been submerged or damaged since the typhoon hit Saturday. Restaurants and hotels in Hoi An were inundated with water and tourists were evacuated from hotels on boats. "It's reached places in Hoi An that it hasn't reached in years," Peter Kahl, 53, a restaurant owner in Hoi An, told AFP. The spouses of world leaders attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in nearby Danang were set to visit the city later this week.
There has been no word yet on whether the visit will go ahead. "If anyone from APEC comes to see (Hoi An) and sees the condition it's in at the moment -- it's dreadful," Hoi An resident Andrew Lambie told AFP, as a river snake swam past his home. Danang was mostly spared from the storm's destruction, with reports of heavy rain and high winds but no major flooding. US President Donald Trump will attend the APEC summit this week, along with China's Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin of Russia. Vietnam has been battered by a series of storms this year. Flooding and landslides in northern and central regions killed more than 70 people last month. In September, Typhoon Doksuri tore through central Vietnam, killing 11 people and decimating communities across several provinces. The country has reported at least 240 people dead or missing in floods and landslides since the beginning of the year. Natural disasters have killed more than 13,000 people and caused more than $6.4 billion in property damage over the past 20 years in Vietnam, according to the World Bank.