BEIJING — A strong earthquake that shook an arid, hilly farming area in central China sparked landslides and destroyed or damaged thousands of brick-and-mud homes Monday, killing at least 89 people and injuring more than 600, the government said.
The quake near the city of Dingxi in Gansu province toppled brick walls and telephone lines, shattered mud-and-tile-roofed houses, and sent cascades of dirt and rock down hillsides that blocked roads and slowed rescue efforts by crews trying to reach remote areas.
About 123,000 people were affected by the quake, with 31,600 moved to shelters, the provincial earthquake administration said on its website. Almost 2,000 homes were destroyed and about 22,500 damaged, the administration said.
Hospitals set up aid stations in parking lots to accommodate large numbers of injured, while hundreds of paramilitary People’s Armed Police fanned out to search for victims in the region of terraced farmland about 760 miles west of Beijing.
‘‘I saw the bulb hanging from the ceiling start swinging wildly around. I woke my two friends and we ran into the bathroom to hide,’’ said arts student Li Jingui, 21, who was on the fourth floor of a school dormitory in Dingxi when the earthquake started.
In addition to the confirmed dead, there were five people missing and 628 injured, the central government’s China Earthquake Administration said.
Damage was worst in Min county in Dingxi’s rural southern portion, where scores of homes were damaged and telephone and electricity services knocked out, Dingxi’s mayor, Tang Xiaoming, told state broadcaster CCTV.
All but three of the deaths, all the missing, and most of the injured were in Min, a likely result of shoddy construction.
Residents said the shaking lasted about one minute but wasn’t strong enough to cause major damage in urban areas, where buildings are more solidly built.
‘‘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 Chinese.
Tremors were felt in the provincial capital of Lanzhou 110 miles north, and in Xi’an, 250 miles to the east.
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 12 miles beneath the surface.
The US 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.
Su Wei, leader of a 120-member rescue team from the paramilitary People’s Armed Police, told state broadcaster CCTV that they were on their way to the epicenter, but progress was slowed by mud and rock slides blocking the road.
The Chinese Red Cross said it was shipping 200 tents, 1,000 sets of household items, and 2,000 jackets to the area and sending teams from both Lanzhou and Beijing to help with relief work and assess further needs.
Authorities said that heavy rain is expected in the area later in the week, raising the possibility of need for shelter and increasing the chance of further landslides.