A top international tourist resort was among the sites worst hit by a 7-magnitude earthquake that struck the Jiuzhaigou scenic area in China’s Sichuan province on Tuesday evening.

At least 19 people have been confirmed kille , with another 28 seriously injured, and 247 injured.

A 39-year-old Canadian woman who teaches at an Australian university was among 20 people hospitalised at the Jiuzhaigou branch hospital in the township, after sustaining a head injury, local media reported.

The Jiuzhaigou earthquake struck at 9.19pm on Tuesday, blocking roads into the mountainous national park area and cutting communication lines.

A team of 36 fire fighters was searching for survivors on Wednesday morning at the Intercontinental Resorts Jiuzhaigou Paradise Hotel, after the hotel’s lobby was destroyed by the earthquake.

“Glass is falling down and so are wall faces. Repeated aftershocks are making the rescue extremely difficult,” Wu Xiaobin, the chief of the Aba prefecture fire brigade told CCTV.

“We have unearthed a dead body from here and the rescue is ongoing now. During the whole rescue operation, we have found four corpses and rescued 303 people.”

A group of 30 tourists from Shanghai were 10 kilometres from the hotel where they had planned to stay, when a landslide smashed their vehicle, one of the group, Ye Rongfei, told reporters.

“At the beginning, we thought it was just landslide. But soon we felt the tremor and it became very clear and almost every one noticed that it was an earthquake.”

He said groups of people ran out of hotels and inns and gathered on the roadside.

Around 2800 people were evacuated from the Jiuzhai Paradise Hotel as the earthquake struck during a live performance held each evening by the hotel to commemorate the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

“The Jiuzhaigou traditional show last night was packed, suddenly the building started to tremble, clearly tremble, with a huge sound,” the manager of Leshan Leshui International Travel Agency, Yu Wenchao, told the West China Metropolis Daily.

Rescuers work at a tourist site in Zhangzha in Jiuzhaigou county in southwestern China's Sichuan province.Rescuers work at a tourist site in Zhangzha in Jiuzhaigou county in southwestern China’s Sichuan province. Photo: AP/Xinhua

“People responded quickly and flooded to exits, staff cried out, ‘don’t panic’.”

Around 100 tourists were blocked at the Ganhaizi scenic area by a landslide on Tuesday night. There were 38,799 visitors in the area of the UNESCO-listed Jiuzhaigou national park on Tuesday, and authorities said 31,500 had been moved to safety, and an evacuation of tourists out of the park area would be completed by 6pm on Wednesday.

By Wednesday morning, most major roads had been re-opened after soldiers and firefighters spent hours clearing boulders. There were more than 700 aftershocks recorded. Aftershocks continued to block some roads on Wednesday morning, with a 4.8 magnitude aftershock at 10.30am forcing soldiers to walk from Songpan to Jiuzhaigou to continue rescue efforts.

Relief aid was to be dropped by aircraft, and China’s State Council sent a team to the disaster area to guide relief work.

Forty police and soldiers reached Shangsizhai village by walking at 1am to find buildings collapsed and villagers injured.

A separate earthquake struck Xinjiang, in China’s west, injuring 32 people on Wednesday morning, but geological experts said the two earthquakes were not connected.

A spokesperson from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Australian Consulate in Chengdu was in contact with local authorities who advised that no Australians have been affected by the Sichuan earthquake.

“The region is a tourist destination and we will continue to monitor the situation closely,” DFAT said.

By Kirsty Needham
Sydney Morning Herald

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