Unofficial figures however put the toll at more than 100 as Typhoon Maemi, packing winds of up to 216km per hour, whipped across eastern and southern parts of the peninsula, leaving a swathe of destruction.

"It was the most powerful typhoon in terms of wind speed since we began compiling weather records in 1904," a senior official at the Korea Meteorological administration said.

"There is nothing left here. My refrigerator is gone, TV set gone and even the  heating boiler is missing," rued the owner of a sea-side restaurant.

The powerful gale wrenched everything on its path, including towering industrial cranes in Busan's container terminal.

A 50-year old man died after being blown off the terrace of his house in Busan.

Up to 20 people were feared drowned when giant sea waves whipped up by the typhoon submerged an underground Karaoka bar in the southeastern city of Masan.

"It was the most powerful typhoon in terms of wind speed since we began compiling weather records in 1904"

Korean Weather official

Authorities issued flood warnings for towns and cities along the Nakdong river. About 2000 people have been evacuated from their homes.

Four power plants stopped operations as the gale struck, plunging 1.4 million households into darkness.

Rising Damage

"Damage and losses are expected to increase further, as more reports are registered with the centre," an official at the National Disaster Prevention Headquarters said.

In response to the calamity, Prime Minister Goh Kun chaired an emergency meeting to discuss rescue measures.

The typhoon sank 18 vessels and broke 13 container cranes at ports. The total estimated loss caused by the storm is said to be around $6 million.

The worst hit area was the South Kyeongsang province where at least 15 people drowned and roads were swept away.