Updated 12:14 a.m. ET
BEIJING - A strong earthquake struck a moderately populated part of western China on Monday morning, killing at least 20 people and injuring 296, according to the local government.
The quake hit near the city of Dingxi in Gansu province, a region of mountains, desert and pastureland with a population of 26 million. That makes it one of China's more lightly populated provinces, although the Dingxi area has a greater concentration of farms and towns with a total population of about 2.7 million.
The deaths and injuries were reported in Min County and other rural southern parts of Dingxi municipality, the provincial government said in a statement posted on its official microblog.
Residents described shaking windows and swinging lights but little major damage and little panic. Shaking was felt in the provincial capital of Lanzhou 110 miles north, and as far away as Xi'an, 250 miles to the east.
"You could see the chandeliers wobble and the windows vibrating and making noise, but there aren't any cracks in the walls. Shop assistants all poured out onto the streets when the shaking began," said a front desk clerk at the Wuyang Hotel in the Zhang County seat about 25 miles from the epicenter. The clerk surnamed Bao refrained from identifying herself further, as is common among ordinary Chinese.
The government's earthquake monitoring center said the initial quake at 7:45 a.m. was magnitude-6.6 and subsequent tremors included a magnitude-5.6.
The quake was shallow, which can be more destructive. The center said it struck about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) beneath the surface, while the Gansu provincial earthquake administration said it was just 3.7 miles deep.
The U.S. Geological Survey measured the magnitude of the initial quake as 5.9 and the depth at 6 miles.
Initial measurements of an earthquake can vary widely, especially if different monitoring equipment is used.
Dingxi is about 766 miles west of Beijing.
China's worst earthquake in recent years was a 7.9-magnitude temblor that struck the southwestern province of Sichuan in 2008, leaving 90,000 people dead or missing.