CANGNAN, China - The strongest typhoon to hit China in half a century killed more than 100 people, dozens of whom had taken shelter in a house that collapsed, Xinhua news agency said on Friday, and the toll appeared likely to rise.

Typhoon Saomai tore into Cangnan county in the eastern province of Zhejiang on Thursday after authorities had moved hundreds of thousands in the densely populated commercial province to safety.

By Friday evening, 104 people were confirmed dead and 190 were missing in Zhejiang and neighboring Fujian province, Xinhua said. Some 54,000 houses were destroyed.

State television put the direct economic loss at 11.3 billion yuan ($1.42 billion).

At least 41 villagers, including eight children, were killed when a house collapsed in the town of Jinxiang, just an hour's drive from where the typhoon made landfall, Xinhua and a local official said.

Most of the victims were neighbors who thought the two-storey, concrete structure would be safer than their own wood-and-brick shelters, Xinhua said, adding that another two had died in a separate house collapse in the town.

"Many people here are taking shelter in schools and factories as their houses have been destroyed," the Jinxiang official said.

Damage to crops, power lines and infrastructure was evident in Cangnan county. Villagers were seen bringing out injured, and ice was being delivered by truck, presumably to preserve bodies.

"Lots of people were hurt here but my family are all okay," said Wu Yelian, an old woman doing a roaring trade selling instant noodles and canned drinks to drivers stuck in the heat in a jam on the narrow mountain road outside.

"I haven't seen a typhoon this strong in years. Last time we had a bad one, a dam collapsed and many people died."

Power was also cut in five Fujian towns close to where Saomai made landfall, Xinhua said.

Along a highway in Cangnan, trees were knocked flat, their branches and tops ripped off. Tiles and even bricks from flimsy farmhouses lay strewn about on the ground. Power and telephone lines were knocked down.

The typhoon crossed the coast with winds of 216 km (135 mph) per hour -- more powerful than a typhoon that hit Zhejiang in August 1956, killing more than 3,000 people.

Saomai was the eighth storm to hit China this year. Tropical Storm Risk ( had graded Saomai a maximum-category 5 "super" typhoon, but reduced that to category 4 as it made landfall, the same category as Hurricane Katrina which devastated the U.S. Gulf coast last year.

Much of south China has been battered by typhoons and tropical storms this summer. Nearly 1,000 have been killed by rainstorms, mudslides, house collapses and floods.