BEIJING - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang set out on Monday morning for the epicenter of a powerful earthquake that rattled the south-western province of Yunnan, leaving at least 381 people dead and 1,801 others injured.
The 6.5-magnitude quake struck at 4.30pm on Sunday with a depth of 12 km. The epicenter was in Longtoushan Township, 23 km south-west of Zhaotong, in Ludian county, the China Earthquake Networks Center reported.
As of 8.40am on Monday, at least 381 people have been killed, rescuers said. More than 12,000 houses have been toppled and 30,000 damaged in the quake zone.
Many of the homes that collapsed in Ludian, which has a population of about 429,000, were old and made of brick.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said that he "is saddened by the loss of life, and the damage to homes and infrastructure".
In Zhaotong, the quake has left 302 people dead in Ludian, 66 dead in Qiaojia County and caused another death in the city's Zhaoyang District, according to the Yunnan Provincial Department of Civil Affairs.
Meanwhile, in Huize County of the neighbouring Qujing City, the quake has killed 10 people.
In addition, five people are reported missing, including three in Qiaojia and two in Huize, and 57,200 residents need to be transferred to safe areas, according to the department.
In instructions issued late Sunday night, President Xi Jinping ordered that authorities concerned give top priority to saving people's lives, minimise casualties and guarantee a proper settlement for quake victims.
He called for all-out efforts in relief operation and strengthening aftershock monitoring to prevent secondary disasters.
Premier Li also gave instructions for disaster relief, urging local authorities to try every possible means to save the injured people and those buried in rubble.
He told local authorities to provide residents in quake zone with adequate food, clothes, clean drinking water, temporary shelters and timely medical treatment.
The quake has also cut traffic, electricity and telecommunications in Ludian County.
Aftershocks have triggered landslides and cracked many bridges, forcing rescuers to walk on foot to the quake-hit area.
The landslides blocked a river in Hongshiyan Village, forming a barrier lake that threatens 800 villagers.
Two main roads leading to Ludian that were damaged by the quake and downpours have reopened after emergency repair, staff of Zhaotong's road administration told Xinhua.
Zhou Minzheng, a resident of Longquan Village, was seen escorting his nephew to hospital late Sunday night. He told Xinhua that his nephew, whose parents were both killed in the quake, is in a coma. Their houses have collapsed.
Pictures and video clips on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, show firefighters helping those stuck in collapsed houses get out of the rubble. Many injured are put on stretchers by doctors and nurses while receiving intravenous injection.
Ma Hao, a college student who is volunteering for the rescue at Longtoushan Township, told Xinhua that he saw bodies buried in ruins, and that he helped to carry more than 40 injured people out of the collapsed buildings.
"Honestly, it's such a shame that we had no time to take care of the bodies. We need to help those alive first," he said.
"I felt a strong jolt on my fifth-floor home and some small objects in my home fell off the shelves," said a resident in the county seat of Ludian.