BEIJING-- Rescuers in southwestern China tried on Saturday to reach remote communities rocked by earthquakes that killed at least 80 people and damaged thousands of buildings, state media reported.
More than 200,000 villagers were evacuated after Friday's quakes toppled thousands of homes and sent boulders cascading across roads in a region of small farms and mines near the border between Guizhou and Yunnan provinces, where some of China's poorest people live.
Rescue workers cleared roads to reach survivors and rush aid to the remote areas. The death toll could rise as news trickles in from cut-off areas, the Xinhua news agency said.
The quakes cut off electricity and triggered landslides that blocked roads, hampering rescue efforts. Adding to rescuers' difficulties was rain which forecasters said was expected for the next three days.
"I was extremely scared when it started to shake. After it shook the first, second and third times, it was moving and I was extremely scared," Zhou Weiping, 56, a resident of the township of Guohui in Yiliang County, told Reuters. "We panicked and quickly ran out."
The first magnitude-5.6 quake struck just before 11:30 a.m. Friday and was followed by an equally strong quake shortly after noon, joined by dozens of aftershocks. Though of moderate strength, the quakes were shallow, which often causes more damage than deeper ones.
State television showed crumbled walls and roads strewn with rubble and rocks. The broadcaster put the death toll at 89 earlier in the day, but later revised it to "at least 80", in line with the official Xinhua news agency's tally.
More than 800 people were injured, Xinhua said. Up to 740,000 people were affected in Yunnan's six worst-hit counties, officials said.
In neighboring Guizhou province, more than 11,700 houses were damaged and the lives of nearly 28,000 people were disrupted, the state news agency and officials said.
Buildings in China's less developed regions are often built with little regard for construction standards, making them susceptible to earthquakes.
Premier Wen Jiabao held an emergency meeting on his plane as he flew to the disaster zone late on Friday. He reached Yiliang, in Yunnan province, near the epicenter, just after midnight and spent the night visiting quake survivors in villages and hospitals, Xinhua said.
State broadcaster CCTV showed Wen talking to victims in a tent settlement set up for the displaced. He called for "rapid, all-out efforts to search for survivors and save lives," according to Xinhua
"We have to keep safety as a top concern and guard against epidemics," Wen was quoted as saying.
Rescuers in Yunnan said they had reached most of the worst-hit areas and the province's civil affairs department was quoted as putting direct economic losses at 3.7 billion yuan ($583 million).
In 2008, some 87,600 people were killed in the southwestern province of Sichuan when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.