A powerful typhoon pummeled southern China on Thursday, killing at least 21 people and leaving 27 Vietnamese fishermen missing after their boats sank in Chinese waters.

Chanchu, which was downgraded to a tropical storm, has killed more than 60 people in Asia, including 37 last weekend in the Philippines, where it destroyed thousands of homes.

CountryWatch: China

China's official Xinhua News Agency said Friday that 13 people died from flooding and landslides in the southeastern province of Fujian. Another eight perished in neighboring Guangdong province.

By early Friday the dramatically weakened storm has moved into the East China Sea.

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 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.

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.