Hurricane-force winds, freak hailstorms, pounding rain and a tornado killed 78 people in China’s eastern province of Jiangsu on Thursday and injured nearly 500 others, 200 of them critically, Xinhua reported.
The storms hit Yancheng city around 2:30 pm (0630 GMT), with witnesses saying whole villages had been levelled and huge trees felled, China’s official news agency said.
Winds of up to 125 kilometres (77 miles) per hour struck the city and outlying suburbs, destroying houses, according to the report.
“I heard the gales and ran upstairs to shut the windows,” said Xie Litian, 62, from Donggou township in Funing County, 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.”
Saying that all the other houses in her neighbourhood had been destroyed, she added: “It was like the end of the world.”
Photos of the scene show dazed residents near homes reduced to rubble amid tangled telephone wires, splintered wood and toppled poles.
Many parts of China have been lashed by torrential rains this week as summer rainstorms have been heavier than usual, causing damage across the country.
Flooding is common during the summer monsoon season in the south of China but rainfall has been particularly heavy this year.
In central China heavy floods killed 22 people and displaced 197,000, state media said on Monday.
Eight people were trapped in a flooded coal mine in southwest China’s Guizhou province, Xinhua reported.
Direct economic losses from the floods hit nearly 2.7 billion yuan ($410 million), state media reported.
China’s vice premier Wang Yang said days earlier that China faced volatile weather conditions due to the influence of El Nino.