The number has continued to increase during the past few days as rescue workers discover more bodies, Xinhua, China's official news agency, said on Saturday.

On Friday the toll jumped from 228 to 482 when officials in the central province of Hunan more than tripled their reported number killed there to 346, Xinhua said on Saturday.

Chinese state television had said earlier that one of its reporters had discovered that officials in one county in Hunan had intentionally given a lower figure.

Of Hunan's 346 dead, 197 were in that county, Zixing, which also has 69 of the 89 still reported missing in the province, Xinhua said.

Following the television report, the ministry of civil affairs warned local authorities not to cover up the toll.

Nearly three million people also have fled their homes and more than 212,000 homes have been destroyed and 287,000 damaged by flooding, landslides and high winds since the tropical storm struck the coast of southern China on July 14.

A flooded home in Qingyuan, 
Guangdong province

At least 99 also died in Guangdong, a crowded province bordering Hong Kong, and 42 were killed in the coastal Fujian province.

Residents in the affected areas suffered damaged homes, ruined roads and shortages of clean water.

Adding to the misery, most of south China faces a heat wave, aggravating the threat of an epidemic.

South China is plagued by rainstorms every summer, but this year's flood season has been particularly deadly, already claiming hundreds of lives before Bilis struck.