A powerful tornado has swept through several villages in northern China, flattening homes and killing at least five people, local media said on Saturday.

The storm hit the prefecture-level city of Chifeng in China's Inner Mongolia region on Friday, according to the People's Daily newspaper. The number of those injured has passed 50, it said.

A relief operation is reportedly underway. Photos posted by the newspaper on social media networks showed rows of devastated houses and large trees snapped in two.