At least 19 people died, including eight tourists, and nearly 147 were injured after a massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck a remote, mountainous part of China's southwestern province of Sichuan, the provincial government and official media said on Wednesday.
The U.S. Geological Survey said that the quake hit a sparsely populated area 200 km (120 miles) northwest of the city of Guangyuan late on Tuesday at a depth of 10 km (6 miles). It was also close to the Jiuzhaigou nature reserve, a tourist destination.
According to reports, Sichuan is frequently struck by tremors. In May 2008, a huge quake took place there killing almost 70,000 people.
Meanwhile, the Chinese earthquake administration said that a separate quake of magnitude 6.6 hit a remote part of China's far northwestern region of Xinjiang, more than 2,000 km (1,240 miles) away, on Wednesday. The People's Daily said 32 people had been injured in the mostly rural area.
The Sichuan government said that the rescuers were gradually evacuating tourists and residents who had been cut off by landslides. It added that 19 people had been killed, but most of those injured were not seriously hurt.
The state television reported that the dead included eight tourists, two residents and nine whose identities have yet to be confirmed. The People's Daily said that in nearby Longnan in the neighbouring province of Gansu, also jolted by the quake, eight people died in landslides caused by heavy rain.
The Sichuan government further added that 45,000 tourists had been evacuated from the quake zone with just 1,000 more still waiting to leave. According to the state media, a few dozen tourists were camped out at Jiuzhaigou airport, waiting for flights. The airport was open and beginning to evacuate people by air.
A traveller with a young daughter, who gave his family name as Li, said he was in his hotel when the earthquake hit. "The walls and floor shook. Some things fell off the table," he told Reuters.
Some people were injured in the hotel but most were fine. "The rescue services showed up quickly and gave us water and things to eat," Li added. He also said that he received priority in evacuation since he was accompanied by a small child. "At first the road was blocked, but they had cleared a lane this morning for ambulances."
Xinhua reported that a French man and a Canadian woman suffered light injuries. However, the government of the self-ruled island said that all 341 Taiwan tourists in 19 tour groups were safe.
The Sichuan government dismissed as overblown earlier fears that part of a hotel had collapsed, saying damage proved minor and everyone was evacuated safely. The Sichuan earthquake administration, which also assessed the quake magnitude at 7.0, said its epicentre was in Ngawa prefecture, populated chiefly by ethnic Tibetans, many of whom are nomadic herders.
Reports said that the area was rattled by aftershocks on Wednesday. Several pictures on state-run social media sites showed some damage in Jiuzhaigou, with tiles having fallen off buildings and people gathering outdoors.
The state television said that electricity had largely been restored to affected areas and the military was also sending rescuers. The Sichuan government said on one of its official social media sites that more than 38,000 tourists were now visiting Jiuzhaigou.
According to the government, tremor was felt in the provincial capital, Chengdu, and as far away as Xian, home of the famous terracotta warrior figures.
Xinhua reported that the Xinjiang quake's epicentre was in Jinghe county, about 100 km (60 miles) from the border with Kazakhstan, where about 140,000 people live. It added that the residents several hundred kilometres away in Urumqi, and the cities of Karamay and Yining, felt strong tremors, Xinhua said. The jolt lasted about 20 seconds.