Rescuers in China are searching for survivors of a tornado and hailstorm that killed nearly 100 people as it churned through farms and factories on the outskirts of a major eastern city.
The storm that devastated the densely populated area near Yancheng on Thursday afternoon was one of the most extreme weather events witnessed by China in recent years, leaving a swathe of destruction with buildings destroyed, trees uprooted and vehicles overturned.
As the death toll climbed to 98 on Friday, doctors said most of the 800 injured had broken bones and deep lacerations, especially on the head. Medical crews had been rushed to the area, about 500 miles (800km) south of Beijing.
Rescuers carried injured villagers to ambulances and delivered food and water, while army units worked to clear roads blocked by trees, downed power lines and other debris.
While the weather cleared on Friday, forecasters were warning of the possibility of more heavy rain, hailstorms and even further tornados.
“The people inside tried to run outside, but the wind was too strong so they couldn’t,” Xintu villager Wang Shuqing told an Associated Press reporter. “My family members were all inside, they all died. The police then came and took the bodies out. I can’t bear it.”
The disaster was declared a national-level emergency, and, during a trip to Uzbekistan on Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered the central government to provide all necessary assistance.
Tents and other emergency supplies were being sent from Beijing, while schools and other facilities were used to shelter survivors, state broadcaster CCTV said.
Mobile phone and security camera footage showed the tornado’s debris-blackened funnel touching down and golf-ball sized hailstones. Terrified residents who sought to hold back doors that were subsequently blown in described a “black wind” which tore the glass out of windows.
Reports said the tornado struck at about 2.30pm local time and hit Funing and Sheyang counties on the city’s outskirts the hardest, with winds of up to 78mph (125kph).
Cars and trucks lay upside down, lampposts snapped in half, and steel electricity pylons were crumpled and lying on their side. Power and telephone communications were knocked out over a broad area.
The Jiangsu provincial fire and rescue service said crews were sent to evacuate workers and secure dangerous substances at a sprawling solar panel factory in a Yancheng suburb which was completely devastated. Water mains connecting to the factory had been shut off and no chemical leaks reported, state media reported.
Tornados occasionally strike southern China during the summer, but rarely with the scale of death and damage caused by the one on Thursday. Last year, a freak wind described as a tornado was blamed partly for causing a cruise ship to capsize in the mighty Yangtze River on June 1, killing 442 people.