A general view shows collapsed houses after an earthquake hit a remote mountainous area of Yunnan province in southwest China yesterday. Photo: Reuters/AFP
More than 367 people died and almost 2,000 were injured when a strong earthquake hit southwest China's mountainous Yunnan province yesterday, bringing homes crashing to the ground and sparking a massive relief operation.
The quake in Zhaotong prefecture, in the province's northeast, toppled buildings and left rescue teams and residents to pull survivors from beneath the rubble, images on social media showed.
"At least 367 people have been killed and 1,881 people were injured," the official news agency Xinhua reported early today, citing rescuers and raising a previous toll given minutes earlier of 357.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) reported the quake at a magnitude of 6.1 and at a depth of about 10km. It struck about 11km (7 miles) north-west of Wenping at 16:30 local time (08:30 GMT).
"Too many buildings were damaged and we are collecting data on deaths and injuries," Xinhua quoted local official Chen Guoyong as saying in the township of Longtoushan, which sits at the epicentre.
State television broadcast footage of people running from their homes and gathering in the streets, as witnesses described the devastation on social networks.
"The walls of several buildings crumbled, and water pipes were ruptured. The electricity was cut off," wrote a user in Ludian county, 23 kilometres from the epicentre, on China's Twitter-like Weibo.
The user's message was accompanied by images of cracked walls and a pile of bricks strewn across the road, reports AFP.
Another Ludian resident described the scene as resembling a "battlefield after bombardment", telling Xinhua: "I have never felt (such) strong tremors before. What I can see are all ruins."
The county was the worst hit, with 122 residents killed, more than 180 missing and 1,300 injured. At least another 53 deaths were recorded in neighbouring districts. Electricity and telecommunications have been cut across the area.
Ludian has a population of nearly 266,000 and sits more than 300 kilometres from the provincial capital of Kunming.
The Bangladesh mission in Kunming contacted members of the Bangladesh communities living in different areas under the jurisdiction of the mission and all have been found safe, said a foreign ministry press release in Dhaka last night.
No information about casualty of Bangladesh nationals was recorded or reported in the quake-hit area.
South-west China lies in an area that is prone to earthquakes.
An earthquake in Sichuan in 2008 killed tens of thousands of people. And in 1970, a magnitude 7.7 quake in Yunnan killed at least 15,000 people, writes BBC.
HELP THOSE ALIVE FIRST
State media announced that 2,500 troops had been dispatched to quake-hit areas late Sunday, joining a team of more than 300 police and firefighters from Zhaotong City, the capital of the prefecture.
Equipment brought to the area included life detection instruments and excavating tools.
The province also sent 392 rescuers and sniffer dogs to aid the relief operation.
Rescuers carry an injured resident at Ludian county in Zhaotong. Photo: Reuters/AFP
Volunteer Ma Hao, a college student who was helping to carry the injured out of the collapsed buildings in Longtoushan, described a race to pull the living from the rubble that left little time for the dead.
"We had no time to take care of the bodies. We need to help those alive first," he told Xinhua.
A second quake of 4.1 magnitude was registered just two-and-a-half hours later, 18 kilometres south of Zhaotong City, USGS said.
Heavy rain in the vicinity may pose challenges to rescuers, with more downpours forecast in the coming week.
USGS had warned that people in the region lived in structures "highly vulnerable to earthquake shaking".
Complicating matters, the road leading to Longtoushan was damaged in a landslide before the quake.