Beijing - A 6.5-magnitude earthquake rattled southwest China late on Tuesday, killing at least five people, with up to 100 feared dead, according to a government estimate.
Five people died 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.
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 said.
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 around 21.20, not far from the site of a massive 8.0-magnitude earthquake that struck in 2008 leaving 87 000 people dead or missing.
Its epicentre was 284km north of the provincial capital Chengdu and struck at a depth of 10km, the US Geological Survey said.
The affected region, Jiuzhaigou county, includes one of the country's most famous national parks, a Unesco World Heritage Site known for karst formations and lakes.
More than 38 000 people visited the tourist site on Tuesday, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Electricity was cut off briefly, but was then restored, she said.
Some houses at the scenic spot collapsed following the quake and authorities were organising young people to help evacuate residents, a staff worker at the park told Xinhua.
Photos from the area posted to social media showed masses of people milling about on streets scattered with light debris, and a taxi dented from being hit by a large boulder.
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."
China is regularly hit by earthquakes, especially its mountainous western and southwestern regions.
Earlier today, a landslide triggered by heavy rains killed at least 24 people in a different, mountainous region of Sichuan to the south of Chengdu.