Typhoon Saomai killed at least 130 Chinese and left over 160 missing, state media said on Sunday, as reports emerged of fishing communities crushed by the strongest storm to make landfall for half a century.
Hundreds were also injured and damage estimated at millions of dollars, the Xinhua news agency reported.
Several fishermen were at sea when Saomai arrived in southeast China's Fujian province, leaving anxious families with no news about their loved ones till Sunday afternoon.
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. "The bodies had become so bloated in the hot weather that they were impossible to recognize," he said. "We could only tell people from the clothes they were wearing."
The Southern Metropolitan Daily reported from Shacheng on Sunday that many fishing vessels had disappeared after Saomai, with families desperate for news about their sons, husbands and brothers.
An official at the Flood Control Headquarters of Fuding city near Shacheng, declined comment, saying the death toll was still being verified. Fuding has witnessed horrific damage, reporting 41 killed, 107 missing and 1,350 people injured as hundreds of houses collapsed, according to Xinhua.
Fuding's Ziguo Temple, a 1,000-year-old piece of ancient Buddhist architecture, was also severely damaged, the news agency added. More than 20 structures inside the temple compound had collapsed, causing almost "total destruction," it said.
In Fujian, 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 said.
Most deaths confirmed so far were from Zhejiang, north of Fujian. It is among China's most developed and prosperous provinces, and a showcase of what happens when forces of nature are unleashed on a modern and sophisticated society.
In Wenzhou, a booming port city with more than one million residents and an engine of economic growth in Zhejiang, 81 were reported killed and 11 went missing.
Six people were crushed to death in a landslide triggered by torrential rain in Linshui, Zhejiang. In the province of Jiangxi, to its west, two people were reported killed.
Saomai generated winds of up to 216 kmph 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 on 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 and Tropical Storm Bilis, which hit on July 14, hovered over eastern and central China for 10 days, killing more than 600.