Soldiers and local residents drafted in to hunt for hundreds of runaway crocodiles in Vietnam

Authorities intensified their search Tuesday for hundreds of crocodiles on the loose in central Vietnam after they escaped from a farm during heavy weekend floods.

Soldiers, militiamen and local residents have captured or killed 67 crocodiles, but an unknown number continue to pose a danger to villagers in Khanh Hoa province, said Nguyen Nhu Long of the provincial military command.

"We have sent in more soldiers to search for the animals because we are worried that they may crawl into people's houses in search of food," Long said. "They haven't been fed for several days now."

The reptiles escaped when flood waters knocked down a fence surrounding the state-owned Khanh Viet Farm, a popular tourist attraction that housed 5,000 crocodiles.

Several hundred people live in the immediate area of the farm.

Soldiers wielding AK-47 assault rifles shot dead 11 crocodiles as they crawled up a river bank on Monday, Long said, and villagers killed four others.

Vietnam has more than 100,000 farmed crocodiles, which are raised for their skin and meat, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Meanwhile, owners of the Khanh Viet Farm have offered a reward of up to US$100 to anyone who returns one of the missing reptiles, which the company exports to several countries, including Japan and Australia. "It's a very good business," said company spokesman Le Tien Anh. "We were planning to expand the farm to 10,000 crocodiles next year."

Heavy rains triggered the weekend flooding that killed 23 people in central Vietnam, disaster officials said. Water levels in area rivers remain extremely high, and more rains were expected Tuesday, the national weather forecast center said.

Floods and typhoons have killed 215 people across central and northern Vietnam since early October.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova