Typhoon Wipha weakened as it continued to sweep through eastern China early Thursday, but not beforekilling at least seven,destroying thousands of homes and causing landslides.

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Tibetan monks walk against strong wind Wednesday in Shanghai. ((Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press))

The stormhad beenclassified as a typhoon since Monday,with windsreaching365 kilometres per hour, but it was downgraded to a tropical storm Wednesday after it made landfall.

Forecasters had predicted it could be the most destructive storm inyears to hit Shanghai, a city of about 17 million people. But Wiphaspared the large financialhub, instead landing before dawnWednesdayin Zhejiang province, south of the city.

An estimated 7,000 homes were flattened, fields covering about 40,500 hectareswere flooded and an estimated six million people have been displaced, said the CBC's Anthony Germain, reporting from the region.

State media reported that five people died in landslides. Two other deaths were blamed on the storm — a Shanghai man was electrocuted and a Taiwan construction worker died when scaffolding collapsed.

The death toll may increase in the coming days because Chinese authorities have been reluctant to release figures quickly during previous storms and disasters, Germain said.

"Officials are not always forthcoming with the really bad news," he said. "Local officials, if people do die, they tend to keep that secret for a few days until things settle down a bit."

A total of 2.7 million people were evacuated from areas affected by the storm, local newspapers reported.

Shanghai,where officialshad closed down schools, ferries and other transport links in anticipation of the storm, suffered little damage. By Thursday, children returned to school under clear skies.

Weather photos on Thursday showed Wipha spread over a large area centred on eastern China's Shandong province. The storm is forecast to pass over the Yellow Sea and head toward the Korean peninsula.

The storm forced the postponement ofWednesday's must-win game for Canada against Australia at the FIFA women's World Cup of soccer in Chengdu, west ofShanghai, until Thursday. A Norway-Ghana match anda Brazil-Denmark match were also delayed by a day.

The deadliest storm to hit the Chinese coast in recent years was Typhoon Winnie in 1997, which killed 236 people.

With files from the Associated Press