BEIJING -- A powerful earthquake flattened houses and other buildings in China's remote western region of Xinjiang on Monday, killing at least 257 people and injuring more than 1,000, officials and state media said.
Most victims died when their farmhouses collapsed as they ate breakfast, said a police officer reached by telephone in Bachu County, where the quake was centered.
"The dead included the old and the young, even some babies," said a government official who gave his name as Mimati.
Survivors dug through debris around collapsed houses with bleeding hands, calling the names of missing relatives, the official said. Thousands of people were forced to spend the night outdoors in temperatures of some 14 degrees Fahrenheit, he added.
The magnitude 6.8 quake struck the western edge of the Xinjiang region, near China's mountainous border with Kyrgyzstan, at 10:03 a.m. local time, the government said. The U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., put the magnitude at 6.3.
More than 1,000 houses and buildings collapsed in one village in Bachu County, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It also said tremors were felt in Kashgar, the most populous city in the area, though it didn't give details of any damage there.
Xinhua said the death toll was at least 257 people.
At least 10 students died when their junior high school collapsed in the county's most badly damaged town, Chongku Qiake, government official Maimai Qiming said. Another county official said a primary school collapsed, killing two students and injuring 20 others.
Most of the houses in the town were damaged and 90 percent of its 30,000 people would have to sleep outdoors, though the town lacked enough tents or blankets, said a county government official who only gave his name as Wu.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was visiting Beijing, said at a news conference, "I send my sympathy and condolences to the families of those who have been lost in this tragedy."
An employee of a government agriculture office said he had seen battered bodies of adults and children pulled from the rubble in the town, some missing heads or legs.
Some heavy equipment had arrived in the isolated area by late afternoon, but most rescuers were still working by hand, Wu said.
China's Cabinet authorized the release of emergency funds, state television reported. It said Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao and other senior leaders contacted local officials and ordered them to ensure that survivors had adequate water, food and shelter.
A team was dispatched from Beijing with special rescue equipment, the report said, without giving details.
Earthquakes are common in Xinjiang, especially in its west, which covers the eastern foothills of the soaring Pamir and Tianshan mountains of Central Asia. But they usually cause few injuries and little property damage because the area is sparsely populated.
The area is about 1,750 miles west of Beijing and its inhabitants are predominantly Turkic-speaking Muslims.
On Jan. 5, a quake of magnitude 5.4 struck Jiashi County, but no deaths or injuries were reported.
On Dec. 25, a quake of magnitude 5.7 struck another part of western Xinjiang near the Afghan border. Some buildings were damaged but no injuries or deaths reported.