Vietnam mobilizes troops, warns of floods as tropical storm nears

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam put thousands of soldiers on standby, readied evacuation plans and ordered vessels to stay in port on Thursday as flood-prone northern provinces braced for a tropical storm due to make landfall on Friday.

Tropical storm Bebinca, with wind speeds of up to 100 kilometres (62 miles) an hour, is expected to dump up to 450 millimetres (17.7 inches) of rain in Thanh Hoa and Hoa Binh provinces, threatening floods and landslides.

The capital Hanoi, north of the two provinces, was expected to get up to 300 millimetres of rain, the National Centre for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting said.

"Mountainous areas in northern and north-central Vietnam face high risks of landslides and flash floods, while low-lying provinces face severe flooding," the agency said in a statement.

The Southeast Asian country is prone to destructive storms and flooding due to its long coastline. Natural disasters - predominantly floods and landslides triggered by storms - killed 389 people in Vietnam last year.

More than 528,000 people, including 54,732 soldiers, were on standby to cope with the storm, the government's search and rescue agency said on Thursday.

The central government ordered northern provinces to ban vessels from going out to sea and to prepare evacuation plans for people living in low-lying areas.

"The storm is evolving in a complicated manner and may gain strength before making landfall early Friday," Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nguyen Xuan Cuong, said in a statement.

Bebinca is forecast to weaken to a tropical low pressure system as it moves further inland by Friday afternoon, with sustained wind speeds of 50 kilometres an hour, the meteorological agency said.

Natural calamities, mostly floods and landslides, killed 88 people and left 24 missing in Vietnam in the first seven months of this year, according to the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority.

(Reporting by Khanh Vu and Mai Nguyen; Editing by Darren Schuettler)