HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Vietnam's central coast appeared to have been spared the brunt of Typhoon Haiyan's deadly force Sunday as the storm's forecasted trajectory shifted north.
Haiyan continued to weaken as it neared landfall in Vietnam early Monday morning local time. Maximum sustained winds had dropped to 75 mph, the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane. The storm was taking a more northerly path and was forecast to miss much of the country.
Heavy rains and strong winds buffeted some coastal areas, 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.
Despite Haiyain's decrease in intensity since hitting the Philippines on Friday, meteorologist Le Thi Xuan Lan, former director of the southern region of the National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting, 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.
And while the central area was spared the brunt of Haiyan, Vietnam is still on high alert.
"We don't really have an idea of the severity with which this northern region is going to be hit," said Markus. "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."
Contributing: Doyle Rice in McLean, Va.