BEIJING (AFP) - At least 150 people were killed and 1,300 injured after a strong earthquake hit south-west China's mountainous Yunnan province on Sunday, state media said.
The quake in Zhaotong prefecture, in the province's north-east, toppled buildings and left residents frantically searching for survivors beneath the rubble, images on social media showed.
"At least 150 people were killed," the official news agency Xinhua reported. "Too many buildings were damaged and we are collecting data on deaths and injuries," Xinhua quoted a local official as saying from the township of Longtoushan, at the epicentre of the quake.
China News Service, the country's second state news agency, said more than 1,300 people had been injured and 12,000 houses had collapsed.
State television broadcast footage of people running from their homes and gathering in the street, as witnesses described the devastation on social media.
"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, 23km 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."
Ludian has a population of 265,900, and sits more than 300km from the provincial capital of Kunming.
Zhaotong City, the capital of the prefecture, dispatched more than 300 police officers and firefighters to the quake-hit areas. The province also sent 392 rescuers and sniffer dogs.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) had warned that the population of the region resided in structures "highly vulnerable to earthquake shaking".
USGS reported the quake at a magnitude of 6.1 and said it struck at a relatively shallow depth of 10km at 4.30 pm.
Chinese state media put the magnitude at 6.5, citing the China Earthquake Networks Center.
Complicating matters, the road leading to Longtoushan was damaged in a landslide before the quake.
Southwest China lies where the Eurasian and Indian plates meet and is prone to earthquakes. In 1974, a 6.8-magnitude quake in the same area killed more than 1,500 people.
In September 2012, 80 people were killed when twin earthquakes struck the mountainous border area of Yunnan and Guizhou.
In May 2008, an 8.0-magnitude quake rocked Sichuan, which neighbours Yunnan, killing tens of thousands of people and flattening swathes of the province.