The earthquake had a magnitude of five-point four, reducing hundreds of houses to rubble, and leaving desperate residents trapped.
China's sent nearly a thousand soldiers to help with the rescue operation.
Speaker:Donna McSkimming, the Head of International Programs for Australian Red Cross
MCCARTHY: What are the immediate challenges for this rescue effort?
MCSKIMMING: Well the first is that this is a very remote area, so getting people there quickly to assist in the search and rescue is an immediate priority. And then secondly there's a large number of people who have been made homeless by the earthquake, either because they're unsure that their homes are safe to go back to. So getting them into safe areas and under shelter is critically important, and of course, there's always getting people clean water, food, warm clothing and shelter.
MCCARTHY: And has China asked for assistance from international aid agencies such as yours?
MCSKIMMING: Not at this point but we have a good relationship with the Red Cross Society of China. At the moment, the Red Cross Society of China has sent in an assessment team. They have quite a strong provincial branch in Yunnan, and that branch is responding with staff and volunteers. So they're already starting to bring in things like quilts and clothes, tents from their warehouse in Yunnan, which is fortunate that it's that close.
MCCARTHY: Well of course over the last few weeks we've been watching the very difficult and prolonged rescue and recovery mission in Christchurch. How difficult will this mission in China be, with reports of many people trapped under the rubble?
MCSKIMMING: Yes that's the big concern at the moment. So treating the injured, and our reports say that more than half of those who are reported injured are seriously injured. And these next 36 hours are really critical for search and rescue efforts. So the teams will be working around the clock to identify where people are trapped and try to get them out as quickly as we can.
MCCARTHY: And we have had eyewitness reports that parts of a supermarket collapsed and sections of a hotel also fell down. Can we expect that the death toll of 25 will in fact rise substantially?
MCSKIMMING: Well it has risen quickly just over the last few hours, so unfortunately I think we will see further deaths, and again more injuries.
MCCARTHY: As you say, you work closely with the China Red Cross. It's nearly three years after this massive earthquake struck in the nearby province of Sichuan. Have Chinese authorities developed a fairly sophisticated emergency response, given the frequency of these disasters?
MCSKIMMING: Yes I think they have, and I think that you can see that in the very quick response again in this very remote area of Yunnan province, the government of China has released army personnel to assist in the search and rescue. They're getting relief items to the town, to the province quickly, the Red Cross Society of China has again mobilised immediately following the earthquake to ensure people and equipment is there when those who have been affected by the earthquake need it.