By Phuong Nguyen
HANOI (Reuters) - At least 26 fishermen were missing at sea as one of the strongest typhoons in two decades tore into Vietnam's central coastline on Wednesday, uprooting trees and forcing hundreds of thousands into shelter.
Typhoon Molave, packing winds of up to 135 kilometres (83.9 miles) per hour, made landfall around midday having caused two deaths and left dozens missing as it approached.
The military prepared helicopters and amphibious vehicles and deployed or placed on standby 250,000 soldiers in preparation for what humanitarian groups anticipated could be a challenging aftermath.
"We are mounting one of our biggest relief operations ever," Vietnam Red Cross president Nguyen Thi Xuan Thu said in a statement announcing a global emergency appeal for over $4 million in relief funds.
The typhoon will be another big test for Vietnam amid a spell of intense weather throughout October that caused the worst flooding in decades, and several deadly mudslides.
At least 130 people have been killed in the central region, including many soldiers, with dozens still missing.
Two navy ships were mobilised to find 26 missing fishermen whose boats sank when trying to return to shore on Tuesday, the government said.
Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from the path of Molave and those remaining at home told to stay indoors.
"I can see bits of roof, perhaps mine included, and tree branches flying under sky thick with clouds," Nguyen Van Muoi, a resident in central Binh Dinh province told Reuters by phone from an evacuation shelter.
The weather agency said the storm would trigger more heavy rain in the central region, including the coffee belt Central Highlands.
State television showed strong wind battering Quang Nam province, home to the historic town of Hoi An, where a resident shared video of trees bending and branches whipping in winds that gained strength each hour.
Molave hit the Philippines at the weekend and the death toll there rose to nine on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Phuong Nguyen; Additional reporting by Khanh Vu and James Pearson in Hanoi and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila; Editing by Martin Petty)