A U.S. Air Force cargo plane filled with $460,000 worth of food, medicine and other aid for typhoon victims landed Wednesday in southern Vietnam - he first major U.S. donation to Vietnam since the communists seized Saigon in 1975.
“The Vietnamese government issued an appeal to the international community and this was an area where we could help,” said Dennis Harter, U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission.
Tens of thousands of families remain homeless after Typhoon Linda slammed Vietnam’s southernmost Ca Mau and Kien Giang provinces earlier this month.
Linda killed at least 435 people, according to the Central Committee for Flood and Storm Control. Several thousand more people are missing.
The storm caused more than $450 million in damage, flattening entire villages.
The United Nations, which is coordinating the relief effort, estimates Vietnam needs at least $12 million in immediate assistance.
In all, the United States is donating more than $600,000 in aid to typhoon victims.
France and South Korea have both offered about $100,000, while Switzerland donated $400,000 earlier this week.
Also Wednesday, French President Jacques Chirac arrived in the Vietnamese capital, looking to extend France’s influence over its former colony.
U.S. Ambassador Pete Peterson met Wednesday with Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Vu Khoan to deliver a check for $25,000, the U.S. Embassy said.
On Tuesday, a chartered commercial flight from Guam delivered about $65,000 worth of medicine and other supplies, Harter said. Additionally, the U.S. government is supplying about $85,000 worth of meteorological equipment to help Vietnam improve its ability to detect the size and pattern of storms.
One reason for Typhoon Linda’s impact on southern Vietnam was that the region was caught unprepared for its size and speed.
“This is such a big national tragedy,” said Kim Cuong, a popular Vietnamese actress helping to raise relief funds. “It means so much to have the kindness of the Americans. I’m so happy to hear that they are saving a place for us in their hearts.”
The arrival of the U.S. C-141 in Ho Chi Minh City marked the first major U.S. donation to Vietnam since 1975, when communists overran the city, then known as Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam.
French President Chirac is in Vietnam for two days of joint meetings and a weekend summit of leaders from French-speaking countries.
Once an enemy of communist Vietnam, France now maintains a close relationship, offering millions of dollars worth of aid, technical assistance and language training.
A strong advocate of Vietnam’s effort to liberalize its command economy, Chirac has urged Hanoi to continue with reforms - a theme he will push during his visit.
Vietnam was the crowning jewel in France’s network of colonies through the late 1800s and much of the 1900s. But communist unrest and the Japanese occupation of French Indochina during World War II dramatically weakened France’s hold on its colony.