HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (USA TODAY) — Vietnam's central coast appeared to have been spared the brunt of Typhoon Haiyan's deadly force as the weakened storm made landfall Monday.
The typhoon crossed into northern Vietnam on the coast of Quang Ninh province around 3 a.m., with sustained winds of 75 mph, the equivalent of a Category One hurricane, according to Vietnam's National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting.
The storm packed gusts reaching up to 98 mph. Local media reported that it is the strongest storm ever to hit Quang Ninh, which is home to Halong Bay, one of Vietnam's premier tourist attractions.
Trees were uprooted, roofs were blown off of houses, and power outages and coastal flooding were reported in Quang Ninh and Haiphong provinces. Heavy rains lashed the cities of Haiphong and Halong, and a 170 foot tall TV tower was reported toppled in the city of Uong Bi.
As the storm moved inland, its intensity lowered to a tropical storm, with winds dropping to 55 mph by 5:00 am. It was forecast to continue tracking in a northern direction and turn northeastward, reaching the border with China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region around 1 p.m, becoming a tropical depression with winds of about 30 mph as it traverses the mountainous terrain of northwestern Vietnam.
Meteorologist Le Thi Xuan Lan said heavy rains will continue throughout the day around much of Vietnam's northern region, posing a threat for flash floods in highland areas.
The storm weakened considerably since cutting a devastating path through the Philippines, where thousands are believed dead.
Heavy rains and strong winds buffeted some coastal areas on Sunday, but damage was minimal. Local media reported 12 dead and dozens injured as a result of accidents during storm preparations.
By Sunday afternoon, many of the more than 600,000 people who had been evacuated from areas across the central region from Phu Yen to Quang Binh provinces were allowed to return home.
Meanwhile, Vietnam's northern provinces were forced into emergency preparations Sunday, with Haiyan on a course to reach coastal Thanh Hoa and Nam Dinh provinces early Monday morning.
On Sunday afternoon, local media reported that more than 44,000 people were evacuated from coastal areas of Thanh Hoa province, and 80,000 were being evacuated in the port city of Haiphong, the third largest city in Vietnam.
Lan, the meterologist, said the typhoon remains "very, very dangerous.''
Along with strong winds, she said potential storm surges of 10-20 feet threaten the coastline, and heavy rainfall of 12 inches or more could cause flash flooding in the Vietnam's northern highlands. The river systems of the Red River Delta are also in danger of flooding.
Francis Markus, spokesman for the Red Cross in Vietnam said that the unpredictable trajectory of the storm has stretched the country's emergency response resources thin, creating new challenges as preparations have shifted from the center to the north of the country.
"I think everybody's been very shocked by the horror of the impact of Haiyan in the Philippines and it means we really have to do the maximum to prepare for it in Vietnam and in China and certainly not be complacent,'' he said.
Contributing: Doyle Rice in McLean, Va., William M. Welch in Los Angeles