BEIJING - Two shallow earthquakes shook northwest China Monday, seismologists said, with unconfirmed reports of three people killed in the hard-to-reach area.
The US Geological Survey said the initial 5.9 magnitude quake hit at 7.45 am (2345 GMT Sunday), with its epicentre 151 kilometres west of Beidao in Gansu province at a depth of just 9.8 kilometres.
A second 5.6 magnitude tremor hit the same region at 9.12 am at a depth of 10.1 kilometres, USGS said.
The Sina News Internet portal reported that three people had died.
State broadcaster China Central Television had the same death toll on its online microblogging site, which also said that 43 people were injured.
Pictures broadcast on CCTV showed rural villages with rubble-strewn streets.
Much of western China is prone to earthquakes.
Beijing's own China Earthquake Networks Centre put the magnitude of the larger quake at 6.6, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
It reported that locals in Minxian county said they saw trees and homes shaking, with the quake lasting for about one minute.
It was felt in the provincial capital of Lanzhou and as far away as Xian, the capital of the neighbouring province of Shanxi.
Images posted online showed stunned city residents - possibly in Lanzhou - gathering on the streets and assessing minor damage.
The USGS rated it at seven on its "shakemap", with shaking perceived to be "very strong" and the potential to cause "moderate" damage.
A magnitude 6.6 earthquake in neighbouring Sichuan province killed about 200 people earlier this year, five years after almost 90,000 people were killed in a huge tremor in the same province.