Thousands of fearful people in Longmen, a mountain town close to the epicentre of yesterday's earthquake in Sichuan, spent last night out in the open.
The earthquake that hit Lushan county at 8am toppled most of the old buildings in Longmen, a town of about 20,000 people.
Residents said the frequent aftershocks had driven them out of their homes to the relative safety of the streets, despite the hot weather.
An entire street of old houses was toppled.
"I was scared to death to see everything dropping down just as we were having breakfast," said Sha Qingqing, a 27-year-old mother, as she held her wailing daughter tightly. Sha's husband is working away from the town.
"I felt so helpless when my four-year-old daughter was crying during the shocks."
She said the local government had provided some food, but they still weren't sure where they should spend the night.
Of the towns worst hit, Longmen was the furthest rescuers and the People's Liberation Army could reach yesterday.
The winding road connecting the town to the outside world was packed with military vehicles, ambulances and fire engines, and more were expected to arrive.
Electricity and water supplies to the town were cut.
A pilot with the PLA Air Force based in Chengdu told the Sunday Morning Post that the village of Baosheng and the township of Taiping, both deep in the mountains, were more seriously damaged than Longmen. Helicopters had been sent to find landing zones as all roads to both settlements were blocked by debris.
A man who works for the Longmen hydroelectric board said yesterday's quake came as a bigger shock than the earthquake of 2008.
"At that time, there were some shocks and rumbling before the main quake arrived, so we still had time to run. But this time the quake came in a split second."
Shattered glass lacerated his shoulder as he ran from a company dormitory.
Residents, recalling the lessons of the much more deadly earthquake five years ago, were quick to help one another.
With the temperature reaching 30 degrees Celsius yesterday in Lushan, volunteers stood along main roads in Longmen to distribute fruit and drinking water to passing vehicles.
Liu Zhixiong, a middle-school teacher, formed a pool of eight motorcyclists to carry relief goods or people free of charge because most road traffic was disrupted by the quake.
"Disaster relief at this time is vital," Liu told the Post, adding that he had evacuated his father and all of his students to safety before organising the motorcycle pool.
People elsewhere in the hills of Lushan county above Longmen were also told to stay outdoors. Makeshift shelters put up by victims of the quake lined the road out of Longmen, but by last night the local government had provided most residents with tents and had restored electricity supplies.