At least 50 people were killed and more than 150 others injured on Friday when a shallow earthquake followed by a series of aftershocks jolted the mountainous southwest China, triggering landslides and toppling thousands of houses.
The 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit the border area of Yiliang county in Yunnan province and Weining county in the neighbouring Guizhou province at 11:19 am local time, according to China Earthquake Networks Centre (CENC).
The epicentre was traced at Luozehe town, about 33 km away from the city centre of Zhaotong. Its depth was about 14 km.
Forty nine people were killed in Yiliang while one death was reported from urban Zhaotong area, an official with the provincial civil affairs department was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as saying. More than 150 others were injured.
The death toll may rise further as rescuers are yet to reach some of the quake-hit villages blocked off by landslides and falling rocks, local officials said. Power and communications also appeared to be cut off in the worst-hit areas.
As of 1 pm local time, the quake was followed by 16 aftershocks, with the strongest measuring 5.6 on the Richter Scale, Yunnan's provincial seismological bureau said.
The quake affected over seven lakh people in Yiliang and Daguan counties as well as Zhaoyang district, which are all under the administration of Zhaotong, the city's civil affairs bureau said. So far, more than one lakh people have been evacuated.
More than 20,000 houses were either damaged or had collapsed in the quake, according to the Yunnan provincial civil affairs department.
No casualties had been reported in Guizhou province, but the quake damaged and toppled homes in Weining county, said Chen Bo, head of the county government.
"The hardest part of the rescue now is traffic," Li Fuchun, head of Luozehe township, said. "Roads are blocked and rescuers have to climb the mountains to reach hard-hit villages."
Li said the number of casualties might be high but it is not possible to give the exact figure until the rescuers reach the hard-hit villages.
Big rocks, some as high as four metres, tumbled down the mountain slopes crashing onto the roads. The quake also triggered landslides, Xinhua said.
A settlement of a zinc mine in Luozehe was seriously damaged, it said. More than two dozens of mining families had been evacuated out of their cracked houses.
"It is scary. My brother was killed by falling rocks. The aftershocks struck again and again. We are so afraid," a miner, Peng Zhuwen, was quoted as saying.
62-year-old Liu Linde, a retired miner, said when the quake struck, he was thrown three metres off the road.
"When I returned, the gate of my house had collapsed. (There were) Cracks everywhere on the walls," Liu said.
Southwest China is prone to earthquakes. In May 2008, a severe 8.0 magnitude earthquake had jolted Sichuan and parts of neighbouring Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, killing nearly 90,000 people.