Strong earthquake strikes in China's Yunnan province; China braces for "serious casualties"

BEIJING (REUTERS) - An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4 struck in China's southwestern province of Yunnan on Tuesday, the United States Geological Survey reported.

China's official Xinhua news agency reported at least one person was killed and three injured but that Chinese authorities expect "serious casualties" from the quake.

A rescue team of 230 professionals had been despatched to the quake zone, according to officials of Jinggu Dai and Yi Autonomous County, the area of the epicentre. The remote mountainous area has a population of 290,000 mostly ethnic minorities.

"The whole building was shaking terribly with loud cracking sound. Plates fell off in the kitchen. We all ran out and the streets now are packed with people," Xinhua quoted Li Anqin, a resident living in Weiyuan town, the county seat of Jinggu, saying via telephone.

Li told Xinhua her apartment is on the ground floor but that "I haven't seen any building around collapsed yet."

The USGS said the quake's epicentre was 163 km north-northwest of Yunjinghong and 10.0 km deep. Xinhua said shaking could be felt in the provincial capital of Yunnan, Kunming, as well as several other major cities in the province.

Xinhua quoted a county official as saying that houses there shook for several seconds and some tiles fell off roofs while residents ran outside.

Hundreds died in a 6.3 magnitude quake which hit another part of Yunnan in August. Earthquakes frequently strike in the region.

A quake in Sichuan province, also in the southwest, in 2008 killed almost 70,000 people.