SHANGHAI, China (AP) – A powerful typhoon pummeled southern China on Thursday, killing at least 11 people and leaving 27 Vietnamese fishermen missing after their boats sank in Chinese waters.

Typhoon Chanchu has killed at least 50 people in Asia, including 37 last weekend in the Philippines, where it destroyed thousands of homes.

There were fears the death toll could rise dramatically

The storm hit the coast of China early Thursday, flooding scores of homes and forcing the evacuation of more than 1 million people before weakening to a severe tropical storm.

The official Xinhua News Agency said eight people died and four were missing when mudslides buried two homes in coastal Fujian province. Three others – including two children – were killed when the storm made landfall near Shantou in the northern tip of China’s Guangdong province, knocking over houses.

The missing Vietnamese fishermen were on three boats that sank in Chinese waters, Vietnamese officials said Thursday. Six other boats with 67 fishermen were able to reach an island and report the sinking of the other vessels. Vietnam asked Chinese authorities to help search for the missing.

Taiwan reported the deaths of two women swept away by floods in the southern region of Pingtung on Wednesday.

In southern Japan, high waves swept away three 17-year-old male students swimming off Hateruma island in the Okinawa chain, leaving one dead and another missing.

coast guard spokesman Shoji Kawabata said. The third was rescued.

China said it had moved more than 1 million people to safety in Guangdong and Fujian provinces. The storm bypassed the financial center of Hong Kong on the Guangdong coast.

Thousands of people evacuated from fishing boats and low-lying areas were staying with relatives, in tents, or in schools and government warehouses, said an official of the Chaozhou city government in Guangdong, who like many Chinese bureaucrats would only give his surname, Zhang.

Nearly 100,000 ships were ordered to return to harbor, Xinhua said.

Television news showed violent waves pounding sea walls along China’s coast. Reports said winds and rain damaged dikes, uprooted trees and brought down buildings along the Guangdong coast.

By 8 p.m. Thursday, Chanchu, which means “pearl” in Cantonese, was centered about 186 miles south of Shanghai and picking up speed as it headed along the coast and out to sea at about 28 mph, the Hong Kong Observatory said.

The storm was expected to enter the East China Sea later Thursday or early Friday.

An official with the Fujian Provincial Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, who gave only his surname, Huang, said winds at the storm’s center had weakened when it crossed over the land and were blowing at about 56 mph.

Taiwan ordered schools on the outlying island of Kinmen closed because of the storm. Chanchu earlier drove an oil tanker to run aground near Taiwan’s southern port of Kaohsiung. Rescuers in helicopters airlifted 13 crew members off the ship, which was later freed with no leakage of oil.

T.C. Lee, an official with the Hong Kong Observatory, said Chanchu was the “most intense” typhoon to strike in the South China Sea in May, an early month in the annual cyclone season.

However, the early arrival of the year’s first typhoon does not necessarily portend an unusually active storm season, Lee said by telephone.

Associated Press reporter Tran Van Minh in Hanoi, Vietnam, contributed to this report.

AP-ES-05-18-06 1158EDT

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