Over 150 dead as strong earthquake hits China

More than 5,500 injured in southwestern Sichuan province


A powerful earthquake has killed 157 people, injured thousands and left many trapped in the hills of rural Sichuan province in China's southwest, nearly five years after a quake killed 90,000 in the same area.

The earthquake took place at 8.02am local time (12.02am Irish time) in mountainous Lushan county, causing landslides, destroying buildings, and disrupting phone lines and power connections. Landslides and aftershocks have hampered the rescue efforts.

In the jurisdiction of the city of Ya'an, which administers Lushan, 19 people were reported missing and more than 5,500 people were injured, the China Earthquake Administration said.

Tens of thousands of people moved into tents or stayed in their cars, either unwilling or unable to return home or to go back as aftershocks continued to shudder the region.

The earthquake measured 7.0 by the Chinese earthquake administration and 6.6 by the US Geological Survey, and its shallowness at 13 kilometres below ground made it particularly destructive.

Nearly 8,000 People's Liberation Army troops were expected to be deployed in the area to help with rescue efforts.

State television CCTV said only emergency vehicles were being allowed into Ya'an. The airport in the provincial capital city of Chengdu had reopened, having closed briefly earlier.

The earthquake struck 85km from the epicentre of the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and took place along the same fault line, Longmenshan, that runs between the Tibetan plateau and Sichuan Basin.

The village of Longmen was hit particularly hard, with authorities saying nearly all the buildings there had been destroyed in a frightening minute-long shaking.

Premier Li Keqiang has travelled to the region to direct rescue efforts, and both he and President Xi Jinping ordered officials and rescuers to make saving people the top priority, the official news agency Xinhua reported.

"The current most urgent issue is grasping the first 24 hours since the quake's occurrence, the golden time for saving lives," Xinhua quoted Mr Li saying earlier.

Rescue work should be done in a scientific way in order to reduce casualties to a minimum, Mr Xi told Xinhua.

Ya'an city and surrounding administrative region has a population of

1.53 million and is known as the hometown of the giant panda. It is about 140km away from Chengdu.

Xinhua said the Bifengxia panda preserve, which is near Lushan, was not affected by the quake. Dozens of pandas were moved to Bifengxia from another preserve, Wolong, after its habitat was wrecked by the 2008 quake.