Tornado, hail storms kill at least 78 people in eastern China

A tornado, hail storms and heavy rain have hit the area near Yancheng city in eastern China, killing at least 78 people and injuring some 500, according to state media.
Damaged houses are seen after a tornado hit Funing county, Yancheng, Jiangsu province, on June 23, 2016.
Damaged houses are seen after a tornado hit Funing county, Yancheng, Jiangsu province, on June 23, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A tornado, hail storms and driving rain killed at least 78 people and injured some 500 in eastern China on Thursday (June 23), flattening power lines, overturning cars and ripping roofs off houses in Jiangsu province.

The storm struck mid-afternoon near Yancheng city, a few hours' drive north of China's commercial capital, Shanghai, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said.

Winds of 125kmh battered several townships in Funing county, the official Xinhua news agency said.

"Downpours, hail storms and a tornado battered parts of Yancheng city ... causing many houses to topple," it added.

"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 neighbouring houses were gone.

"It was like the end of the world," Xie said.

Of the roughly 500 hurt about 200 have serious injuries. Power and communications are down in some areas and emergency supplies, including 1,000 tents, have been rushed to the scene, the civil affairs ministry said in a statement.

Pictures posted online showed injured people lying amid destroyed houses, overturned cars, split tree trunks and broken power lines.

The summer often brings severe weather to China. Severe floods in the south killed at least 22 people and left 20 missing earlier this week.

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.