BEIJING: A violent storm in eastern China that packed gale-force winds and hail killed 98 people and injured hundreds as it flattened power lines, overturned cars and ripped roofs off houses in Jiangsu province.
The storm, which included a tornado, struck mid-afternoon on Thursday near Yancheng city, a few hours’ drive north of China’s commercial capital Shanghai, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said.
Winds reached 125 kph (78 mph) and battered several townships in Funing county, the official Xinhua news agency said.
“I heard the gales and ran upstairs to shut the windows,” Funing resident Xie Litian, 62, told Xinhua.
“I had hardly reached the top of the stairs when I heard a boom and saw the entire wall with the windows on it torn away.” When the storm subsided and Xie escaped, all the neighboring houses were gone. It was like the end of the world,” Xie said.
The latest death toll stood at 98, with another 800 people injured, state-run China National Radio reported on its website on Friday, citing a provincial meeting on the disaster. State media earlier reported 78 deaths and about 500 people injured.
Pictures posted online showed injured people lying amid destroyed houses, overturned cars, split tree trunks and broken power lines.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, currently visiting Uzbekistan, called for a comprehensive rescue effort, ordering China’s cabinet to send a team to oversee relief efforts, Xinhua reported.
Premier Li Keqiang ordered authorities to ramp up search and rescue work and medical treatment for the injured, it reported.
Xinhua earlier reported that about 200 people had serious injuries. Power and communications were down in some areas and emergency supplies, including 1,000 tents, had been rushed to the scene, the civil affairs ministry said in a statement.
GCL System Integration Technology Co Ltd, a $5.22 billion market cap solar cell module maker, said a 40,000 square meter factory it part-owned had collapsed due to the tornado. Firefighters were doing emergency rescue work on the scene and the company was assessing the extent of the damage.
China’s summer often brings severe weather. Earlier this week floods in the south killed at least 22 people and left 20 missing.
Last June, a freak storm led to the sinking of a Yangtze River cruise ship that killed 442 people, many of them elderly tourists. Only 12 people survived when the Eastern Star capsized in what was China’s worst shipping disaster in seven decades.