A tornado that struck eastern Jiangsu province on Thursday has left an estimated 98 people dead and over 800 injured.

Hurricane-force winds of up to 125 kilometres per hour struck the city of Yancheng shortly before 3pm on Thursday, reducing buildings, schools and homes to rubble. Rescue efforts continue in a disaster that news agencies are calling one of the worst to ever hit Jiangsu, and the worst tornado to hit China in over fifty years.

Firefighters sorting through wreckage from the storm. Photo: Weibo.

The gusts were accompanied by fist-sized  hail stones. Although authorities issued extreme weather alerts, they came too late to prevent many of the casualties. Strong rains and winds are expected to continue, threatening to worsen the conditions facing the coastal region’s over 2 million residents.

Damage from the storm. Photo: Weibo.

Local resident Sun Yazhou told AFP he was driving a truck when the tornado hit, blowing out his windows.  “The sky was completely dark. I was scared, but I had nowhere to run. I had to wait it out.” A Canadian solar panel factory worker described the horror when the factory, and its dormitory, were hit. “It all happened so fast…I thought for sure I was going to die.”

Damage from the storm. Photo: Weibo.

President Xi Jinping has ordered “all-out rescue efforts”, and over 1,300 police officers have been assembled to help assist rescue efforts. The search for survivors is reportedly complete, and clean up is now underway.