August 11, 2006

Typhoon kills 98 in China

By Ben Blanchard

XIAPU, China (Reuters) - The strongest typhoon to strike China for half a century killed at least 98 people, dozens of them villagers who had taken shelter in a concrete house that collapsed, and left 149 missing.

Typhoon Saomai tore into Cangnan county in the eastern province of Zhejiang on Thursday after authorities moved than 1 million people in the densely populated commercial province to safety, Xinhua news agency said.

But at least 41 villagers, including eight children, were killed when a house collapsed in the town of Jinxiang, only an hour's drive from where the typhoon made landfall, Xinhua and a local official said.

Most of the victims, whose bodies were found in the rubble, were neighbors who thought the two-storey, concrete structure would be safer than their own wood-and-brick shelters, Xinhua said, adding another two died in a separate house collapse in the town.

"The wind was so strong that whole windows were slammed into rooms," the official in Jinxiang, who declined to give her name, told Reuters by telephone.

"Many people here are taking shelter in schools and factories as their houses have been destroyed."

By Friday morning, Saomai had weakened into a tropical depression as it moved inland.

A total of 81 people were killed in the Wenzhou area, which includes Cangnan and is home to 7.4 million people, and 11 were missing there, the news agency said.

Saomai destroyed nearly 150,000 houses and injured 80 people in the Wenzhou area and the damage was mostly in Cangnan, where many telephone and power lines had been severed, causing widespread blackouts, Xinhua said.


In neighboring Fujian province, 17 people were killed, 138 were missing, 620,000 people had been evacuated and 32,000 houses destroyed, Xinhua said.

Power was largely cut off in five towns close to where Saomai made landfall, Xinhua said.

Front windows of a service station off the highway near Xiapu were shattered. Most of the roof was ripped off allowing heavy rains to flood the attached restaurant and shop.

"There were about 100 people inside when at around 9 o'clock the windows just exploded," said a service station worker surnamed Wang.

"People were screaming. Then the rain just started pouring in. But we'd pulled the blinds down, so fortunately no one was injured."

"I was very scared but we get typhoons quite a lot here, though I haven't see one this strong for a long time," said a woman called Xiao Lin. Along the main coastal highway to Wenzhou, roofs of many farmhouses had collapsed or simply been blown away.

The typhoon crossed the coast with winds of 216 km (135 mph) per hour -- more powerful than a typhoon that hit Zhejiang in August 1956, killing more than 3,000 people.

Saomai was the eighth storm to hit China this year. Tropical Storm Risk ( had graded Saomai a maximum-category 5 "super" typhoon, but reduced that to category 4 as it made landfall, the same category as Hurricane Katrina which devastated the U.S. Gulf coast last year.

Much of south China has been repeatedly battered by typhoons and tropical storms this year. Nearly 1,000 have been killed by rainstorms, mudslides, house collapses and floods.

Tropical storm Bilis killed at least 637 in China last month and typhoon Prapiroon killed about 80 last week.

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Guo Shipeng in Beijing)