More than 1.6 million people were evacuated from the path of Typhoon Saomai before it struck late Thursday with winds gusting up to 170 mph, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
But it weakened to a tropical storm Friday morning and by midday the Hong Kong Observatory said its winds had fallen, dropping it to tropical depression status.
Hardest-hit was Wenzhou, a coastal city where at least 81 people were killed and 11 were missing, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
On Wenzhou's outskirts, 43 bodies including those of eight children were found in the debris of collapsed houses, Xinhua said. News photos showed relatives weeping over bodies covered in sheets and quilts.
It said Wenzhou suffered $560 million in damage, including more than 18,000 flattened houses.
Torrential rains were forecast over the weekend in a swath of China's south stretching from coastal Zhejiang and Fujian inland to the poor rural provinces of Jiangxi and Anhui.
Much of that region was still recovering from Tropical Storm Bilis, which killed more than 600 people last month, many of them in mountain villages and other inland areas.
Saomai, the Vietnamese name for the planet Venus, was the eighth major storm to hit China during an unusually violent typhoon season. It killed at least two people in the Philippines and dumped rain on Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Airlines canceled hundreds of flights.
In China, deaths were reported in Zhejiang province, where Wenzhou is located, and in neighboring Fujian province to the south.
In Fujian, power was knocked out in the cities of Fuding, Xiapu, Zherong, Fu'an and Ningde, state media said.
More than 32,000 houses were wrecked in Fujian, Xinhua said. The government didn't immediately announce statistics on damage to housing in Zhejiang outside of Wenzhou.
State television showed cars flipped over on rain-slicked streets, fallen trees and broken road signs. Exhausted evacuees sat in public buildings waiting out the storm.
Saomai was the most powerful typhoon to hit China since a storm on Aug. 1, 1956, that had winds up to 145 mph, Xinhua said. It said that typhoon killed 4,900 people in Zhejiang.
"It is the strongest typhoon that we have ever seen," Xinhua quoted an official as saying in Fuding, where at least two people were killed. The government said the city got more than 12 inches of rain in 12 hours.
Ahead of the storm, about 1 million people were evacuated from flood-prone areas of Zhejiang and 620,000 from Fujian, according to the government.
More than 20,000 soldiers and paramilitary police reportedly were mobilized for relief work. The Fujian government said it sent in 1,500 tents, 3,000 quilts and 50,000 pieces of clothing.
Late Friday, the government announced that it was allocating $21 million in disaster aid to regions hit by Saomai and other recent weather disasters.
Last week, Typhoon Prapiroon battered Guangdong province and the Guangxi region on China's southern coast, killing at least 80 people.