Tropical Storm Prapiroon strengthened into a full-blown typhoon on Wednesday, with forecasters warning of possible severe destruction to parts of southern China.

The storm had been steadily gathering strength while churning across the South China Sea from the Philippines, where six deaths were blamed on the severe weather and flooding.

With Prapiroon expected to make landfall between Thursday night and Friday, 65,000 people have been evacuated from parts of south China's Hainan Island and neighboring Guangdong province, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

CountryWatch: China

Around 53,200 boats had returned into ports on the island, which lies about 373 miles southwest of Hong Kong. Rescue teams have been ordered to be on alert for floods and landslides.

The storm is "as strong, if not stronger" than an earlier storm, Bilis, which sparked floods and landslides that killed more than 600 people in southern China last month, Gao Shuanzhu, a senior official at China's national observatory, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

By 8 p.m. (1200 GMT), Prapiroon was centered 211 miles south of Hong Kong, which issued warnings to sailors amid scattered squalls. The Hong Kong Observatory warned of winds in the area gusting at up to 38 mph.

Prapiroon was packing winds of about 73 miles per hour at its center while moving northwest toward Hainan's northern coast at roughly 10 mph, the observatory said.

By Thursday, the storm would build to gusts of 81 mph, the observatory said. It was due to blow hard through Friday, before continuing northwest into the Chinese mainland and weakening again into a tropical storm.

Strong winds and heavy rains were forecast from Thursday to Saturday for Hainan, China's southernmost island and a key tourist destination.

In Hong Kong, at least one person was reported injured when empty shipping containers were toppled by high winds at a container terminal. Ferry service was disrupted.

Philippine authorities said two other people were missing following lightning storms and flooding caused by Prapiroon. About 15,000 others were evacuated as parts of the northern Philippines remained inundated.

Prapiroon, named after the Thai rain god, is the region's eighth major storm of the season. It comes in the wake of last week's Typhoon Kaemi, which killed at least 35 people in China and left dozens missing in flooding and landslides.