KUNMING - An intense rescue operation was under way in China Monday after an earthquake killed at least 381 people and injured thousands more, leaving scenes of devastation across a mountainous area.
More than 12,000 houses collapsed and 30,000 were damaged in the quake zone in the southwestern province of Yunnan, China's official news agency Xinhua said.
Soldiers stretchered the injured away from the scene in the immediate aftermath, one carrying an elderly man on his back another a child in his arms, with residents fleeing in terror as aftershocks hit.
Rescuers rushed victims to local hospitals and as dawn broke Monday continued to pick through the rubble of destroyed homes in a desperate search for survivors.
Images on social media showed painstaking attempts to extricate residents from the rubble of their homes, while reports said heavy rains were hampering rescue efforts.
In Ludian county, the worst-affected area, Xinhua said its reporters "saw drenched survivors sit along the muddy roads waiting for food and medication. Some half-naked survivors were quivering in the rain".
A total of 7,000 emergency personnel, including 5,000 soldiers, police and firefighters had been mobilised, Xinhua said Monday, and Premier Li Keqiang was heading to the scene.
Equipment brought to the area included life detection instruments and excavating tools.
"They are also battling the continual downpour that has brought down the temperature in the remote area and made shortages of food and medicine even more pernicious," Xinhua added.
Volunteers from across China were heading to Yunnan to assist. At the airport in the provincial capital Kunming, one group were discussing how to reach the worst hit areas.
"It is our duty to help," one told AFP.
A total of 381 people had been killed by the tremor, with 1,801 injured, according to China's Ministry of Civil Affairs.
Users of China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo expressed sympathy for the victims, posting images of candles and crying faces.
"May the dead rest in peace and the living be strong," read one typical comment.