Typhoon Saomai crashed into eastern China with winds of 216km per hour. At least 43 people were found dead in the rubble of houses destroyed in Cangnan County where it first hit.

By Friday morning, Saomai had weakened into a tropical depression as it moved inland.

One million people from the densely populated Zhejiang province had been relocated by authorities before the storm arrived, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The authorities warned that the majority of cities and counties in southeast Zhejiang were threatened by possible geological disasters.

About 620,000 people were moved from their homes in Fuding in the neighbouring Fujian province, two people were killed and 12 reported missing.

Ships capsized

Eight Taiwanese sailors and four Chinese fishermen earlier reported missing were rescued. 

Saomai had been graded a maximum-category five "super" typhoon, but it was reduced to a category four as it reached land - the same category as Hurricane Katrina which devastated the US Gulf coast last year.

Xinhua said: "Because transport and communications have been cut, the number and identity of the dead and missing is still being established."

The greater Wenzhou area, which includes Cangnan and is home to 7.4million people, had declared a state of emergency. Authorities said on Thursday that economic losses to the area - a trading and manufacturing centre - could be up to 2.3billion yuan ($288 million).

Rescue efforts

About 20,000 soldiers have been sent to China's eastern border to help with rescue and disaster relief efforts.

Army units helped people evacuate and reinforced water control facilities to prevent floods, according to military sources stationed in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces.

The typhoon killed at least two people in the Philippines earlier in the week and and brought heavy rain to Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, forcing airlines to cancel hundreds of flights.

Saomai is the eighth storm to hit China this year. Tropical storm Bilis killed more than 600 in China last month.