Beijing - At least 50 people were killed when two shallow quakes struck a remote and mountainous area of southwest China on Friday, toppling buildings, authorities and state media said.
Residents described how people ran out of buildings screaming as the two quakes hit on the border of southwestern Yunnan and Guizhou provinces an hour apart around the middle of the day.
Television footage showed people running from damaged buildings and streets strewn with fallen bricks and rocks in Yunnan province's Yiliang district, which appeared to be worst hit.
The official Xinhua news agency said 50 people had been killed in Yunnan and that rescuers have rushed to the quake zone. Authorities are sending thousands of tents, quilts and coats to the area, the report said.
An online statement issued by the public affairs bureau in the province's Zhaotong city, which overseas Yiliang, said 100 000 people were made homeless by the disaster, and at least 20 000 houses collapsed or were damaged.
Footage broadcast on state television network CCTV showed hundreds of people crowded into a sports field in Yiliang, a sprawling town surrounded by green mountains.
Prone to earthquakes
"I was walking on the street when I suddenly felt the ground shaking beneath me," posted one witness on Sina Weibo, a microblogging service similar to Twitter.
"People started rushing outside screaming, it still scares me to think of it now."
So far, no casualties have been reported in Guizhou province, but the quake has damaged homes there, the official Xinhua news agency said, quoting the local government head.
The US Geological Survey said the first quake struck at 11.20 (0320 GMT) at a depth of around 10km, with a second quake around an hour later, putting the magnitude of both at 5.6.
The China Earthquake Networks Centre put its magnitude at 5.7 and said it struck at a depth of 14km.
Southwest China is prone to earthquakes. In May 2008, an 8.0-magnitude quake rocked Sichuan and parts of neighbouring Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, killing tens of thousands and flattening swathes of the province.
Yiliang county has a population of 550 900, according to latest official figures, and is listed as a priority district for state aid due to its poor infrastructure and the low average income of residents.