Sat, Aug 12, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Saomai toll passes 100 in China

TORN APART A massive evacuation seems to have spared Fujian and Zhejiang provinces a much greater death toll, but the region was still given a battering

AGENCIES , CANGNAN AND BEIJING, CHINA

Villagers search a collapsed wooden house for survivors in Jinxiang Township, Cangnan County, in China's Zhejiang Province yesterday.

PHOTO: EPA

The strongest typhoon to hit China in half a century killed more than 100 people, dozens of whom had taken shelter in a house that collapsed, Xinhua news agency said yesterday, and the toll appeared likely to rise.

Typhoon Saomai tore into Cangnan County in Zhejiang Province on Thursday after authorities moved more than 1 million people in the densely populated commercial province to safety.

By noon yesterday, 104 people were confirmed dead and 190 were missing in Zhejiang and neighboring Fujian Province, Xinhua said. Some 54,000 houses were destroyed.

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 were neighbors who thought the two-story, 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.

"Many people here are taking shelter in schools and factories as their houses have been destroyed," the official in Jinxiang said.

Damage to crops, power lines and infrastructure was evident in Cangnan County.

"Lots of people were hurt here but my family are all okay," said Wu Yelian, an old woman doing a roaring trade in instant noodles and canned drinks to drivers stuck in the heat in a jam on the narrow mountain road outside. "I haven't seen a typhoon this strong in years. Last time we had a bad one, a dam collapsed and many people died."

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

Along a highway in Cangnan, trees were knocked flat, their branches and tops ripped off. Tiles and even bricks from flimsy farm houses lay strewn about on the ground. Power was cut and fixed telephone lines were knocked down.

Eight Taiwanese sailors were also rescued after two ships capsized on Thursday in a harbor in Fujian, while four Chinese were saved after their ship struck a reef, according to Xinhua.

The typhoon crossed the coast with winds of 216kph -- 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 US Gulf coast last year.

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

Tropical Storm Bilis killed at least 637 people in China last month and Typhoon Prapiroon killed about 80 last week.

By yesterday morning, Saomai had weakened into a tropical depression and moved inland.

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