Lightning strikes have killed 306 villagers in China over the past three weeks as severe weather continues to batter the countryside, the Xinhua news agency said Friday.

Heavy rains have already unleashed numerous mudslides and floods in southern and central China, with damage estimated in the billions of dollars.

All the victims have been rural residents, and 79% of them were killed while working in the fields.

To bring the death toll down, the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) and the China Association for Science and Technology have launched a joint campaign intended to raise awareness of natural disasters.

So far this year, lightning has killed a total of 499 people, compared to 717 in all of 2006.