FUNING, China (Reuters) - A violent storm in eastern China that packed gale-force winds and hail killed 98 people and injured hundreds as it flattened power lines, overturned cars and ripped roofs off houses in Jiangsu province.
The storm, which included a tornado, struck mid-afternoon on Thursday near Yancheng city, a few hours' drive north of China's commercial capital Shanghai, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said.
Winds reached 125 kph (78 mph) and battered several townships in Funing county, the official Xinhua news agency said.
"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 neighboring houses were gone. "It was like the end of the world," Xie said.
The death toll stood at 98, with 800 people injured, state-run China National Radio said on its website on Friday.
Pictures online showed injured people lying amid destroyed houses, overturned cars and split tree trunks. One showed a man who had apparently tried to shield a woman from falling debris; both were dead in a pile of rubble.
The worst of the storm seemed to have hit only a limited area, however.
"It looks like the tornado only hit very specific places," said a Reuters reporter at the site. "Even nearby villages were fine."
A man broke down in sobs as his 35-year-old son was pulled dead from a pond in Shizhuang town on Friday.
In the nearby village of Dalou, tree trunks were snapped, with plates and household items scattered amid rubble, as survivors picked through the debris.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, visiting Uzbekistan, ordered China's cabinet to send a team to oversee relief efforts, Xinhua reported. Premier Li Keqiang urged authorities to speed search and rescue work.
GCL System Integration Technology Co Ltd <002506.SZ>, a $5-billion solar cell module maker, said a 40,000-sq-m. (430,000-sq-foot) factory it part-owned had collapsed, and it was assessing the damage.
Environmental campaign group Greenpeace said the storm caused the collapse of a GCL facility used to store hazardous chemicals, located near a drinking water plant and a river.
"The release of these chemicals could pose significant risk to public health and the local ecosystem," Greenpeace said in a statement.
China's summer often brings severe weather. Floods in the south this week killed at least 22 people and left 20 missing.
Last June, a storm caused a Yangtze River cruise ship to capsize, killing 442 people and leaving just 12 survivors, in one of China's worst such disasters in seven decades.
(Reporting by Reuters television in YANCHENG and John Ruwitch and Adam Jourdan in SHANGHAI; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez)