Measuring 6.2 on the Richter-scale, the earthquake killed at least 16 people and injured 300, besides leaving a significant section of the local population in near destitution.

China’s ministry of civil affairs said one million people had been affected in 10 counties and 70 towns. It estimated the direct economic loss to be about 74.7 million US dollars.

“The most seriously affected areas are mountainous areas. The traffic situation is very poor. It's hard for vehicles to pass through,” ministry officials said.

In the absence of proper communication, relief workers on horseback were facing rough times.

“Food is in short supply. Farmers’ houses collapsed so the stored grains were buried,” a country official said.

“A lot of houses collapsed. The lack of tents is serious. We are using plastic to build makeshift tents. Medicine is also in short supply,” he added.

"Food is in short supply. Farmers’ houses collapsed so the stored grains were buried"         --Chinese Official

Officials estimate 18,000 houses to have collapsed in the tremor. Another 328,000 buildings including 69 schools are feared to have been damaged.

Landslides triggered by the quake and the hundreds of aftershocks have made matters worse.

By Wednesday morning, 268 aftershocks have been recorded, including one which measured more than 4 on the Richter scale.

Officials admitted that rescue and relief operations were being hampered because of the extensive damage done to the transportation and telecommunication infrastructure.

China in recent weeks has been up against the elements. The tremor follows a spell of devastating floods that caused largescale death and destruction during the last fortnight.