The earthquake was China's worst since 242,000 people were killed in 1976 by the Tangshan quake.
Sichuan province is the most populated part of China - home to 87 million people.
The provincial capital Chengdu, which has a population of more than 10 million people, was comparatively lightly damaged - though Xinhua cited an official with the local seismological bureau saying 45 people were killed there.
Some 5,000 troops have been sent to help with relief work.
The BBC's Quentin Somerville says this is probably the most significant natural disaster to hit China in recent memory, but that the Chinese army has a good record of mobilising and getting people to safety.
He also says it is one of the most open and speedy responses to an emergency he has ever seen from Chinese state media.
The quake was felt as far away as Beijing, he says, meaning millions of people will feel connected to the disaster and will be watching TV screens closely to see how the government responds.
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