At least five people have been killed, and dozens injured after a strong earthquake struck the southwestern region of China, according to officials.
China’s National Commission for Disaster Reduction reported that the magnitude 6.5 quake hit Sichuan province on Tuesday, and warned that the death toll could be higher.
More than 130,000 houses may be damaged, it said in a statement posted on its website, based on a preliminary analysis of the disaster.
The Sichuan earthquake agency said the epicentre of the tremor was in Ngawa prefecture, largely populated by ethnic Tibetans, many of whom are nomadic herders, but also close to the Jiuzhaigou nature reserve, a popular tourist destination.
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Beijing, said there had been reports that the magnitude of the quake could be as high as 7, adding that it was shallow in depth at 15km below the earth’s surface.
Pictures on state-run social media sites showed some damage in Jiuzhaigou, with tiles having fallen from buildings and people rushing to safety.
|The epicentre of the tremor was in Ngawa prefecture [CNS/Chen Yunhua via Reuters]|
State television cited a resident in a village near Jiuzhaigou as saying no buildings had collapsed where he was, but that there had been strong shaking and people had fled outdoors.
Restaurant owner Tang Sesheng fled her establishment in Jiuzhaigou town after she felt the earth moving under her.
“I was also in Jiuzhaigou in 2008 during the last big quake, so I knew what it was. This felt even stronger,” she told AFP news agency by phone.
She said people had come out of their homes to sit out in the town’s large public square, far from any tall structures, afraid to go back inside for fear that buildings might topple.
Many were also sitting in cars, thinking it safer.
“People didn’t dare grab anything like money or clothes – we just all ran outside right away.”
Electricity was cut off briefly, but was then restored, she said.
The official Xinhua news agency quoted a Jiuzhaigou tourism official as saying that some houses had collapsed or cracked and authorities were organising evacuations.
Tremors felt in Chengdu
Shaking was felt in the provincial capital Chengdu and as far away as Xian, home of the Terracotta Warriors, according to users of Chinese social media.
More than 600 fire officers and soldiers have been deployed, the People’s Daily newspaper said.
China is regularly hit by earthquakes, especially its mountainous western and southwestern regions.
A quake in Sichuan in May 2008 killed almost 70,000 people.
Earlier on Tuesday, a landslide triggered by heavy rains killed at least 24 people in a different, mountainous region of Sichuan to the south of Chengdu.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies