August 14, 2006

Typhoon Death Toll Exceeds 200 in China

BEIJING -- The strongest typhoon to strike China in half a century has killed more than 200 people since it made landfall late last week, Xinhua news agency said on Monday.

The death toll jumped from about 130 after the southeastern province of Fujian raised the number of people killed there by 80 to 125, most of whom fishermen, Xinhua said.

Saomai, graded a "super typhoon" with winds exceeding 216 km (134 miles) per hour, barrelled into Cangnan county in Zhejiang province on Thursday, flattening tens of thousands of houses, knocking out power and communications and ruining crops.

The deaths in Fujian were mostly reported in the coastal town of Shacheng, bordering Cangnan, where more than 10,000 ships returned to harbor before Saomai's arrival.

"A lot of fishermen stayed on their boats, worrying that they might be damaged in collisions with other ships," Xinhua said. "The wind was so strong that it overturned many ships and a large number of people were killed or went missing."

Bodies of 99 fishermen had been found in Shacheng by Sunday night, it said.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post said locals feared as many as 1,000 people from the area could have died, but Xinhua said only 108 were still missing and distraught relatives were still searching the waters by boat.

In neighboring Zhejiang, which reported a death toll of 81 on Friday and has not updated it since, house collapses were responsible for most of the casualties.

Saomai was stronger than a typhoon that killed about 5,000 in Zhejiang in August 1956, Chinese media have said.

Much of south China has been repeatedly battered by typhoons and tropical storms this year, with nearly 1,000 killed by rainstorms, landslides and other disasters they brought even before Saomai hit.