The water came unbelievably fast, a killer in the middle of the night. With nowhere to go, the family of eight tied themselves together--perhaps so that when they died, all of their bodies would be found.

The discovery of their corpses added to the many tales of sorrow that emerged today as several million people began to collect their shattered lives after Vietnam's worst flooding in at least a century.

After more than a week of rainstorms, the threat of more rain ended in most areas, and forecasters said conditions appeared to be improving. Still, waters remained high as the remains of the tropical depression moved north, and water worked its way downstream, isolating this ancient city.

The death toll was reported to be 470, with nearly 100 missing. All available military personnel are involved in the relief operation, with thousands of tons of emergency food en route to the region.

The flooding has devastated seven provinces in central Vietnam that are home to 7 million people, causing an estimated $50 million in damage.

The worst hit area, with about 300 dead and 70 missing, was Thua Thien Hue province, which includes the city of Hue, the former imperial capital and a major tourist attraction. Officials estimated that 90 percent of the 1 million residents in the province were displaced.

Carpenters were working to meet the demand for coffins for areas dry enough to bury victims, such as the family of eight that was found Saturday.

"They realized they could not survive the flooding, so they just tied themselves together in hopes that their bodies could be recovered more easily," said Phan Thanh Hung of the provincial flood and storm control center.

Hung said relief aid delivery had sped up as water levels eased. But road access to Hue--already cut off for more than three days to the south by a major landslide--was halted again when rain returned. Water was five feet deep along one half-mile stretch of National Highway 1, the country's coastal lifeline.

Trains from the north were blocked by high water and track damage.

Plans to open a mountain pass on the two-lane highway south to Danang were delayed until Monday. Road crews have been working frantically for more than three days, building a temporary bridge where part of the road was washed away.

That left Hue's relief effort dependent on the airlift, which delivered 55 tons of supplies on 28 helicopter and transport plane flights.

The storms began pounding Vietnam more than a week ago. The flooding began last Monday night as the Perfume River rose 18 feet in less than 24 hours--the middle of a three-day period in which more than seven feet of rain fell, a record since Vietnam began keeping figures a century ago.

CAPTION: La Van Son, left, and his sisters La Thi Mai and La Thi Hanh mourn for relatives killed by floods in central Vietnam.