A devastating earthquake has struck northwestern China, killing at least 250 people and injuring more than 1,000 others. Rescue crews and soldiers are searching for survivors.

The earthquake - measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale struck Bachu county in China's northwestern Xinjiang Province, just after 10 o'clock Monday morning [local time].

Hundreds have been reported dead and at least a thousand homes and buildings collapsed in one village in Bachu county. Rescue crews and the Army have been searching the rubble for survivors and victims.

Authorities in Urumqi - the capital of the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang Province - have started sending emergency supplies such as grain, milk and blankets to the devastated areas - where temperatures are barely above freezing.

Upon hearing the news, visiting U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed sorrow at a news conference in Beijing. I extend my sympathy and condolences to the families of those who have been lost in this tragedy, he said.

China's official Xinhua news agency is calling it the worst earthquake to hit the region in 50 years. Officials say it is rare for as many people to be killed in an earthquake in this sparsely populated region.

The area is about 2,800 kilometers west of Beijing, near China's mountainous border with Kyrgyzstan. However, earthquakes are common in China. The deadliest in recent times occurred in the northeastern city of Tangshan in 1976, when at least 240,000 people were killed.