At the epicenter of Thursday's quake in Yao'an county, nearly 22,000 people took shelter in some 3,000 tents, and emergency crews rushed in quilts, rice, cooking oil and other supplies, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The quake displaced some 250,000 people, the report said, sharply revising downward an initial estimate of 400,000. Xinhua, which cited a deputy governor of Yunnan province where the quake occurred, did not give a reason for the discrepancy. A duty officer at the provincial government offices declined to comment, saying the media office was closed for the weekend.
Yao'an, a hilly area, sustained the worst damage, accounting for nearly half the people displaced.
In Guantunxiang, one of the hardest-hit villages, Li Fashun's house was reduced to a pile of red bricks.
"I don't think I'll be able to rebuild my house because I'm not strong enough to make enough money," the 56-year-old farmer told an AP Television News reporter Saturday.
Elsewhere, several Chinese soldiers wearing fatigues sifted through a collapsed building as a woman recovered a live chicken from the rubble. Nearby, another three soldiers carrying hoes walked in single file, their leader holding a flagpole displaying the red Chinese national flag. Three stray pigs sniffed through another big heap of rubble.
Xinhua previously reported that 18,000 homes were destroyed and another 75,000 were damaged in Yao'an and five neighboring counties. A disaster relief official said late Friday that other collapsed homes may be found in more mountainous and sparsely populated areas.
People often leave even undamaged houses after earthquakes because they are afraid to sleep indoors while aftershocks continue to shake the area. Those who did not sleep in tents went to stay with relatives, Xinhua said.
Yunnan is part of a quake-prone region bordered on the north by Sichuan province, where a magnitude-7.9 quake last year left almost 90,000 people dead or missing.
In 1988, a magnitude-7.1 quake in Yunnan near Myanmar killed 930 people. More than 15,000 people died after a magnitude-7.7 quake in the province in 1970, though authorities at the time covered up information on casualties and damage amid the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.