An earthquake measuring 6.5 in magnitude has struck China's remote and mountainous south-western province of Sichuan, with up to 100 dead, according to a Government estimate.
Five people have been confirmed dead and more than 60 were injured in the quake, the official Xinhua news agency said, including 30 who were in critical condition.
But China's National Commission for Disaster Reduction estimated that as many as 100 people may have perished, based on 2010 census data of the mountainous, sparsely populated region.
Over 130,000 houses may be damaged, it added in a statement posted on its website, based on a preliminary analysis of the disaster in a remote region of Sichuan province.
The quake struck in a sparsely populated area 200km west-northwest of the city of Guangyuan at a depth of 10km, the United States Geological Survey reported.
Its epicentre was 284 kilometres north of the provincial capital Chengdu.
Restaurant owner Tang Sesheng fled her establishment in Jiuzhaigou town after she felt the earth moving under her.
"I was also in Jiuzhaigou in 2008 during the last big quake, so I knew what it was. This felt even stronger," she told AFP by phone.
She said people had come out of their homes to sit out in the town's large public square, far from any tall structures, afraid to go back inside for fear that buildings might topple.
Many were also sitting in cars, thinking it safer.
"People didn't dare grab anything like money or clothes -- we just all ran outside right away."
The quake occurred not far from the site of a massive 8.0-magnitude earthquake that struck in 2008 leaving 87,000 people dead or missing.
The affected region, Jiuzhaigou county, includes one of the country's most famous national parks, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for rocky karst formations and lakes.
More than 38,000 people visited the tourist site on Tuesday, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Over 600 fire officers and soldiers have been deployed, the People's Daily newspaper said.
The Red Cross Society of China said it was deploying emergency specialists and volunteers to assist affected communities.
"The quake hit at night, communications lines and electricity are disrupted and people are no doubt shocked and scared," said Gwendolyn Pang, a spokesperson with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in China.
"It may take some time to learn the extent of damage and casualties."
Reuters / NDTV