MARRAKESH — A strong earthquake of magnitude 6.8 has struck central Morocco, killing at least 1,000 people and causing severe damage in several areas.
Residents rushed into the streets when the quake struck at 23:11 local time (22:11 GMT) on Friday.
“Violent” tremors were felt in several areas of the country from Casablanca to Marrakesh, where many buildings have been destroyed or severely damaged.
The country’s royal palace has declared three days of national mourning.
It also said the armed forces would deploy rescue teams to provide affected areas with clean drinking water, food supplies, tents and blankets.
Many of the victims are believed to be in hard-to-reach mountain areas.
The epicenter was in the High Atlas Mountains, 71km (44 miles) south-west of Marrakesh.
Many people are still believed to be under the rubble and rescue efforts are under way. Several bodies have already been recovered.
Hospitals in Marrakesh have seen an influx of injured people, and the authorities have called on residents to donate blood.
Morocco’s Interior Ministry said the earthquake killed people in the provinces and municipalities of Al-Haouz, Marrakesh, Ouarzazate, Azilal, Chichaoua and Taroudant, adding that more than 1,200 had been injured.
In Marrakesh some buildings have collapsed and the damage is particularly severe in parts of the Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Dust could be seen surrounding the minaret of the historic Kutubiyya mosque, a major tourist attraction near the old city’s main square, while the historic Jemaa El Fnaa mosque partly collapsed.
Resident Rashid Ben Arabi rushed to his car in Marrakesh minutes after the earthquake struck the city last night.
He quickly headed with his wife and one-year-old daughter to the town of Amizmiz — about 56km (35 miles) from Marrakesh — to make sure his father and mother were still alive.
He said the roads were full as everyone fled the city amid complete darkness and a power outage.
“As soon as I entered my town, I saw people in a hysterical state, crying and screaming, and everyone was looking for their families,” he said.
“I saw a man lying on the ground by the rubble of his house; he could hear the screams of his two children trapped under the destroyed building, but he couldn’t do anything to help them; rescue teams hadn’t yet arrived at the scene.”
Rashid eventually found his parents who were safe and sound but wrapped in blankets and sleeping in the street.
They were among the many people who spent the night out in the open as the Moroccan government had warned everyone not to go back into their homes in case of severe aftershocks.
A 4.9 aftershock was recorder 19 minutes after the earthquake.
The extent of the damage in mountain villages is instead unknown, but it is believed to be widespread.
The quake’s epicenter in a remote area of the High Atlas Mountains was relatively shallow — and tremors were also reportedly felt in the capital Rabat, some 350km away, as well as Casablanca and Essaouira.
Simple buildings in mountain villages near the epicenter may not have survived and, being remote, it may take some time to determine casualties there.
The quake was also felt in neighboring Algeria, but officials said it had not caused any damage or casualties.
Algeria said it was ready to open its airspace for humanitarian and medical flights to Morocco, despite the fact that it severed ties with its neighbor in 2021 in a move which included suspending direct flights in both directions.
Speaking at the G20 summit in Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the international community would come to Morocco’s aid.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez offered “solidarity and support to the people of Morocco”. French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “devastated” by the news and offered assistance to Morocco.
US President Joe Biden and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky expressed their solidarity while Vladimir Putin said Russia shared “the pain and the mourning of the friendly Moroccan people”. — BBC