China cleans up after worst typhoon in 50 years

Workers in southern China shovelled large piles of mud and debris off the streets as officials assessed the losses on Saturday after the strongest typhoon in 50 years killed 104 people and left 190 missing.

Typhoon Saomai bore down on Zhejiang and Fujian provinces on Thursday, forcing the evacuation of 1,7-million people and destroying tens of thousands of homes, according to official figures.

The massive storm has lost some of its strength, but state television CCTV on Saturday quoted a top official urging people not to become complacent, with torrential rains and gale-force winds forecast over the weekend.

The ongoing wet weather raised the risk of further landslides and flooding.

“We need to continue to put as top priority the task of guaranteeing people’s safety,” said Dou Yupei, Deputy Minister of the Civil Affairs Ministry.

“We urge people not to move back into damaged and dangerous houses [to avoid] new casualties.”

An estimated 54 000 homes were destroyed, while 122 700ha of farmland were rendered useless from the high winds and floods brought by Saomai, according to the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

Economic losses in the two hard-hit provinces totalled 11,25-billion yuan ($1,4-billion), the headquarters said on its website.

The Chinese Red Cross had by Friday earmarked 2,68-million yuan in urgent aid and collected 1,8-million yuan in disaster-relief items such as tents, towels, clothes and medicine, to be sent to badly hit areas, China Daily said.

Dou urged local authorities to do their utmost to provide people with assistance as they tried to get their lives back together and rebuild damaged or destroyed homes and businesses.

In Zhejiang province, officials have dispatched 30 000 tons of water disinfectants to victims to avoid the spread of water-borne diseases.

More than 200 000 people in one of the province’s biggest cities, Wenzhou, lacked clean drinking water, the state-run Xinhua news agency said Friday.

Authorities in Fujian province sent thousands of boxes of instant noodles and bottled water to its residents.

Streets were still blocked by downed trees and electricity poles, television footage showed, but some vegetable stands had reopened and residents were seen buying produce while standing in flooded streets with water up to their calves.

Among the deaths, 87 people were killed and 52 others left missing in Zhejiang’s Wenzhou city, while Fujian province suffered 17 deaths, with another 138 people reported missing, state media said.

In Jinxiang township on the outskirts of Wenzhou, 43 bodies, including those of eight children, were found in the debris of collapsed houses where they had sought shelter from the storm, Xinhua said.

“The wind was so strong that whole windows were slammed into rooms,” an official in Jinxiang, who declined to give her name, was quoted by China Daily as saying on Saturday.

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

Six of the 87 people killed in the Wenzhou area died in a landslide triggered by the heavy rains, China Daily quoted a vice mayor saying.

Saomai was generating winds of up to 216kph 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.—Sapa-AFP

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