ZHAOTONG, China - 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.
State-run China Central Television broadcast images of a mountainside dotted with small homes reduced to shattered shells. Nearby, vast swathes of hillside had plunged into a river, blocking its flow and causing the water to rise 30 metres above its usual level, it said.
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 southwest of Zhaotong, 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".
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Yunnan on Monday and because of the road conditions had to walk for "over three miles" to reach the worst-hit village, Xinhua said on a verified Twitter account.
A total of 7,000 emergency personnel, including 5,000 soldiers, police and firefighters had been mobilised, Xinhua said, and 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.