Beijing, China — The most powerful typhoon to hit China in five decades raged across its southeastern coast Thursday, claiming at least 111 lives as it capsized ships, destroyed buildings and forced 1.5 million people from their homes.
Typhoon Saomai, with winds up to 135 mph, made landfall at the town of Mazhan in coastal Zhejiang province, the Xinhua News Agency said, citing weather officials.
The death toll was put at two Thursday as the storm raged, but it quickly rose today with recovery efforts under way and had reached 111 by midday, according to Xinhua.
Eighty-one people were killed in the southeastern Zhejiang city of Wenzhou, Xinhua said. It did not give any details, but the bodies of 43 people, including eight children, were discovered in Wenzhou amid the debris of collapsed houses.
Another 28 people were killed and 11 missing in other parts of Zhejiang, Xinhua said without elaborating. In Fujian province, two people were killed.
Officials said at least 80 people were injured across the region. The typhoon was also blamed for at least two deaths in the Philippines earlier.
Torrential rains were forecast in the next three days as the typhoon churned inland across crowded areas where Tropical Storm Bilis killed more than 600 people last month.
Eight Taiwanese sailors were missing after two ships capsized in a harbor in Fujian, while four Chinese were missing after their ship struck a reef, the agency reported. Seven others were reported missing in the Philippines after giant waves and heavy rains generated by the typhoon battered coastal villages, officials said.
Saomai, dubbed a "super typhoon" by Chinese forecasters due to its huge size and high wind speeds, was the eighth major storm of this year's unusually violent typhoon season. Saomai was the most powerful typhoon to hit China since the founding of the communist government in 1949, Xinhua said, citing the Zhejiang provincial weather bureau.
Before the storm's arrival, 990,000 people were evacuated from flood-prone areas of Zhejiang and 569,000 from the neighboring coastal province of Fujian, Xinhua said. It said a total of 70,000 ships had returned to port in the two provinces.
In the Philippines, more than 200 houses built on stilts were destroyed and a child was killed and another was reported missing as waves up to 10 feet tall ravaged the coast of Bongao, the capital of southern Tawi-Tawi province, before dawn Wednesday, provincial Gov. Sadikul Sahali said.
Saomai, named for the Vietnamese word for the planet Venus, passed across Japan's Okinawa island group on Wednesday with winds up to 89 mph, prompting airlines to cancel 141 flights and affecting 24,000 passengers.
China's weather bureau had forecast unusually heavy typhoon action this summer, saying warmer than normal Pacific currents and weather patterns over Tibet would create bigger storms and draw them farther inland.
Bilis triggered flooding and landslides as far inland as Hunan province, hundreds of miles from the coast.
Most of the deaths happened in areas away from coastal communities that have elaborate dike networks and a long history of evacuating flood-prone areas.
Typhoon Prapiroon lashed China's southern coast last week, killing at least 80 people in floods and landslides in Guangdong province and neighboring Guangxi.
Even as Saomai stormed ashore, Chinese forecasters were already closely watching Tropical Storm Bopha, which trailed behind it farther out in the Pacific. Bopha was about 110 miles southeast of Guangdong late Thursday and moving west with winds of 29 mph, according to the Hong Kong Observatory.