China quake kills at least 367

In this photo taken by cellphone and released by China's Xinhua News Agency, men look for survivors after an earthquake in Ludian County. Photo / AP
In this photo taken by cellphone and released by China's Xinhua News Agency, men look for survivors after an earthquake in Ludian County. Photo / AP

At least 367 people are dead and nearly 2000 injured after a strong earthquake hit China's mountainous southwest, bringing homes crashing to the ground and sparking a massive relief operation.

The quake, which struck on Sunday in the Zhaotong prefecture of Yunnan province, toppled buildings and left rescue teams and residents to pull survivors from beneath rubble, images on social media showed.

"At least 367 people have been killed and 1400 others are injured," the official news agency Xinhua reported.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported the quake at a magnitude of 6.1 and said it struck at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometres.

"Too many buildings were damaged and we are collecting data on deaths and injuries," Xinhua quoted local official Chen Guoyong saying.

State television broadcast footage of people running from 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 who said they lived 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.

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 1300 injured, though at least 53 deaths were recorded in neighbouring districts. Electricity and telecommunications have been cut across the area.

Ludian has a population of 265,900, and sits more than 300 kilometres from the provincial capital of Kunming.

State media announced that 2500 troops had been dispatched to quake-hit areas late on Sunday, joining a team of more than 300 police and firefighters from Zhaotong City, the capital of the prefecture.

The 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.

A second quake of 4.1-magnitude was registered just two-and-a-half hours later, 18km south of Zhaotong City.

Heavy rain in the vicinity may pose challenges to rescuers, with more downpours forecast in the coming week.

- AFP

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