A bloodied survivor sat on a chair outdoors getting stitches to his head as rescue workers struggled to pull other people from the rubble after a powerful quake left more than 150 dead on Saturday.

Rows of tents have been set up outside a hospital to cope with the flood of thousands left injured by the tremor which hit the city of Ya'an on the edge of the Tibetan plateau.

Survivors were shown on state television being pulled from rubble, lifted on stretchers and being stitched up and treated outdoors. Early in the day a 30-year-old expectant mother was rescued and sent for treatment.

Outside the hospital, a helper pushed an elderly man in a wheelbarrow padded with blankets.

A stream of vehicles and army trucks bringing emergency supplies and troops to help with the rescue raced towards the city along the main road from the provincial capital Chengdu as most normal traffic was blocked.

Every so often the flashing lights of ambulances ferrying the injured brightened up the hazy settling dusk.

Residents along the highway worked to fix fallen tiles while other television footage showed emergency teams shovelling through rubble and passing debris in a human chain.

The quake was felt over a wide area, panicking even residents of the mega-city of Chongqing several hundred kilometres (miles) away.

"Members of my family were woken up. They were lying in bed when the strong shaking began and the wardrobes began shaking strongly," a 43-year-old Chongqing resident surnamed Wang told AFP. "We grabbed our clothes and ran outside."

At one site in the quake zone, against a backdrop of hills, rescue workers wearing camouflage with red arm bands were shown on Chinese television sorting through wood and concrete rubble with their hands.

Behind them stood the tiled roof of a house that looked like it had been hollowed out and another building bearing a long crack.

They were clearing out debris and salvaging any valuables, a reporter said, picking up a few children's school workbooks amid the ruins.

She added that residents were hovering nearby to keep an eye on their damaged property, but that by nightfall they would probably seek shelter at a makeshift relief centre set up at a nearby school.

Elsewhere displaced residents sat on stools with bottled water under a large umbrella, although temperatures are expected to remain mild at between 16 and 23 degrees Celsius (61 and 73 Fahrenheit) over the next few days with occasional rain.

A Chinese TV journalist in Ya'an due to get married on Saturday didn't let her big day get in the way of duty as she appeared on camera in her white wedding dress to report on the disaster.

Wearing bright makeup and a corsage on her left wrist, she was seen in video from a Sichuan TV channel shown on the Internet covering the quake.

"I'm in Holiday Square and 15 minutes ago there a quite strong earthquake struck," she reported from Ya'an. The video was shot by a colleague as they were on the way to a local hotel for the wedding.