About 12,000 homes collapsed in Ludian, a densely populated county of 429,000 people located around 366 kilometers (277 miles) northeast of Yunnan province’s capital, Kunming, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The magnitude-6.1 quake struck at 4:30 p.m. at a depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles), according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Its epicenter was in Longtoushan township, 23 kilometers (14 miles) southwest of the city of Zhaotong, the Ludian county seat.
Ma Liya, a resident of Zhaotong, told Xinhua that the streets there were like a “battlefield after bombardment.” She added that her neighbor’s house, a new two-story building, had toppled.
Xinhua said at least 175 people were killed in the quake, with 181 missing and 1,402 injured.
At least 122 of the dead were in Ludian, with another 1,300 people injured there, Xinhua reported. It said another 49 people died, one was missing and 102 were injured in Qiaojia county, which has a population of 580,000.
News reports said rescuers were still trying to reach victims in more remote towns Sunday night.
Photos on the Chinese social media site Weibo showed rescuers searching through flattened buildings and people injured amid toppled bricks.
The mountainous region abutting Sichuan province is largely agricultural, with farming and mining the top industries.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said the quake was the strongest to hit Yunnan in 14 years. It reported that the quake loosened rocks that blocked a road near the city of Zhaotong and broadcast an image of a car apparently damaged by debris from the temblor.
In 1970, a magnitude-7.7 earthquake in Yunnan killed at least 15,000 people, and a magnitude-7.1 quake in the province killed more than 1,400 in 1974. In September 2012, 81 people died and 821 were injured in a series of quakes in the Yunnan region.