China typhoon toll hits 134 as tragedy strikes fishing communities
BEIJING, Aug 13, 2006 (AFP) - Typhoon Saomai killed at least 134 Chinese and left over 163 missing, state media said Sunday, as reports emerged of fishing villages crushed by the strongest storm to make landfall for half a century.
An unknown number of fishermen were at sea when Saomai arrived in southeast China's Fujian province, leaving anxious families with no news of their loved ones.
One local resident described how he walked along the coastline in the north of the province, near the fishing town of Shacheng, trying to identify the body of his wife's uncle.
He said he came across several bodies that had drifted ashore but not the one he was looking for.
"The bodies had become so bloated in the hot weather that they were impossible to recognize," he told AFP by telephone, asking not to be named. "We could only tell people apart from the clothes they were wearing."
The Southern Metropolitan Daily reported from Shacheng on Sunday that many fishing vessels had disappeared, with families desperate to know what happened to their sons, husbands and brothers.
Saomai caused Shacheng to lose a staggering 1,000 fishing boats, while half its 8,000 families were made homeless when the storm flattened their houses.
An official at the Flood Control Headquarters of Fuding city near Shacheng declined comment when contacted by AFP, saying the death toll was still being verified.
Fuding also saw horrific damage, reporting 41 killed, 107 missing and 1,350 people injured as hundreds of houses collapsed, according to Xinhua.
The city's Ziguo Temple, a priceless relic of Buddhist architecture more than 1,000 years old, was also severely damaged, Xinhua said.
Over 20 structures inside the temple compound had collapsed, causing almost "total destruction," the agency said.
Fuding, along with other cities in the disaster area, were visited over the weekend by Vice Premier Hui Liangyu.
"Clean drinking water, clothes, a place to stay, medical service and schooling must be made available to people affected by typhoon," Hui said, according to Xinhua.
In the same area of Fujian province, Saomai had struck with such force that Baisheng village, with some 300 households, had been wiped virtually off the map.
"Almost the whole village was flattened," an unnamed local resident told Xinhua.
Most deaths confirmed so far were from Zhejiang province, one of China's most developed and prosperous provinces immediately to the north of Fujian.
In Wenzhou, a booming port city with more than one million residents and an engine of Zhejiang's economic growth, 81 people were reported killed and 11 missing.
Six people were crushed to death in a landslide triggered by torrential rain in Lishui city. In the province of Jiangxi, further to the west, two people were reported killed.
Saomai generated winds of up to 216 kilometers (135 miles) an hour when it hit Zhejiang, making it the strongest typhoon to strike China since 1956, according to the China Meteorological Administration.
The typhoon was downgraded early Friday to a tropical storm and by early Sunday it was graded again as a tropical depression.
Typhoon Prapiroon, which made landfall on August 3, killed at least 80 people and Tropical Storm Bilis, which hit on July 14, hovered over eastern and central China for 10 days, killing more than 600 people.