At least three people have been killed after a shallow earthquake struck Sichuan province in southwestern China in the early hours of the morning, injuring dozens and triggering the second-highest level of emergency response by rescuers.
The quake struck Luxian county just after 4:30am local time (20:30 GMT Wednesday), about 120km (75 miles) southwest of the sprawling megacity of Chongqing, which is home to some 30 million people.
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The US Geological Survey (USGS) put the preliminary magnitude of the earthquake at 5.4 but the China Earthquake Networks Centre measured it at magnitude 6. Both said the tremor was at a shallow depth of 10km (6 miles).
The state-run Global Times reported that three people had been confirmed dead and 60 injured, three of them seriously.
Dozens of houses in Luxian had collapsed and many others were damaged, while communications to tens of thousands of people had been disrupted, authorities said.
Live footage from Luxian by state broadcaster CCTV showed workers climbing up ladders in pouring rain to remove hazardous debris hanging off buildings, including half-broken panes of glass.
Another video from the Sichuan Daily showed students evacuating their dormitories in the dark, clutching umbrellas and wearing backpacks.
Authorities downplayed the immediate threat of a larger aftershock.
“It is unlikely there will be a larger earthquake in the area in the near future, but aftershocks will continue for some time,” Du Bin, deputy chief of the Sichuan Earthquake Administration, told reporters.
The USGS said that “significant damage is likely and the disaster is potentially widespread”, in a preliminary assessment.
Multiple power lines had been disrupted and 62,000 households were hit by power cuts after the earthquake, the local government in Sichuan said in a Weibo social-media post.
Traffic on highways passing through the area has been rerouted to make way for emergency vehicles and to avoid damaged roads, the local government said.
China is regularly hit by earthquakes, especially in its mountainous western and southwestern regions.
A powerful 7.9-magnitude earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008 left 87,000 people dead or missing.
Among them were thousands of children, killed when poorly constructed school buildings collapsed.