A powerful earthquake struck a remote, mountainous part of southwestern China's Sichuan province, killing at least 19 people – including six tourists.

The dead included a performer in an arts group that had been performing in Jiuzhaigou when the quake struck. According to the Legal Evening News, they were acting out a scene about the deadly 2008 earthquake that struck nearby and killed nearly 90,000 people. When the quake hit, the performers ran off the stage in terror and the audience thought the tremor was part of the show.

China earthquake
A car damaged during an earthquake is seen in Jiuzhaigou in China's southwestern Sichuan province AFP

Among the 175 injured, 28 were listed in serious condition, according to the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture government in Sichuan. A French man and a Canadian woman suffered light injuries, Xinhua reported.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for rapid efforts to respond to the disaster, and the military sent rescuers to help with relief efforts. Photos show orange-suited rescuers using detectors to search for survivors in the dark of night, carrying a girl to safety and leading other people along a rubble-strewn road.

The area is on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and home to many Tibetan and other ethnic minority villages. It's also near Jiuzhaigou, or Jiuzhai Valley, a Unesco World Heritage national park known for spectacular waterfalls and karst formations that attracts visitors from China and overseas.

The Sichuan government said that as many as 31,500 tourists had been evacuated from the quake zone, leading to traffic jams on the narrow roads. Hundreds of people were stranded at the Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport, waiting for flights out. A few dozen tourists camped out overnight at the airport, which was open but many of the flights are delayed.

China earthquake
Stranded passengers rest at the departure hall of Jiuzhaigou airport near the remote, mountainous area struck by a deadly earthquake in Sichuan province Thomas Peter/Reuters

The US Geological Survey measured the quake at magnitude 6.5, striking at a shallow depth of just 9 kilometres (5.5 miles). Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage than deeper ones. However, the China Earthquake Networks Centre said the quake had at magnitude of 7.0 and a depth of 20km. It's not unusual for magnitude and depth readings to vary due to different technologies in use and the timing and distance from where quakes are measured.

Earthquakes are common in China's west, although casualties are generally low because of the sparse population density. China's deadliest earthquake this century, with a magnitude of 7.9, struck the same mountainous prefecture as this quake, killing nearly 90,000 people in May 2008.

A separate quake with a magnitude of 6.6 struck a remote part of China's far northwestern region of Xinjiang, more than 2,000 km (1,240 miles) away, the Chinese earthquake administration said.

China earthquake
People stand outside buildings after an earthquake was felt in Xian in central China's Shanxi province AFP

The People's Daily said 32 people had been injured in the mostly rural area. Shaking was felt in the provincial capital, Chengdu, and as far away as Xian, home of the famous terracotta warrior figures, according to the government. Residents several hundred kilometres away in Urumqi, and the cities of Karamay and Yining, felt strong tremors, Xinhua said. The jolt lasted about 20 seconds, Xinhua said.