A rare strong earthquake struck Morocco late Friday night, killing hundreds of people and damaging buildings from the historic city of Marrakech to villages in the Atlas Mountains.
Men, women and children remained in the streets for fear of aftershocks.
Morocco’s Interior Ministry said early Saturday that at least 296 people had died in provinces near the quake. In addition, 153 wounded were sent to hospitals for treatment. The ministry wrote that most of the damage occurred outside cities and towns.
The head of the town of Talat Yaqoub, Abd al-Rahim Ait Daoud, told the Moroccan news site 2M that several houses in towns in the Al Haouz region collapsed partially or completely, and electricity and roads were cut off in some places.
He said authorities were working to clear roads in the province to allow ambulances and aid to pass for affected residents, but said the large distances between mountain villages meant it would take some time to figure out the extent of the damage.
Moroccans posted videos showing buildings that had turned into rubble and dust, and parts of the famous red walls surrounding the old city of Marrakech, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, were damaged. Tourists and others posted videos of people screaming and evacuating restaurants in the city while soft club music played.
The US Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 6.8 when it struck at 11:11 p.m. (2211 GMT), with a tremor lasting several seconds. The US agency reported that a 4.9 magnitude aftershock occurred 19 minutes later.
The US Geological Survey said the epicenter was at a depth of 18 kilometers (11 miles) below the Earth’s surface, while the Moroccan Seismological Agency located its epicenter at a depth of 8 kilometers (5 miles). In either case, such surface earthquakes are more dangerous.
Friday’s epicenter was high in the Atlas Mountains, about 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) south of Marrakech. It was also near Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa and Oukaimeden, the famous Moroccan ski resort.
Earthquakes are relatively rare in North Africa. Hassan Mhenni, head of the seismic monitoring and warning department at the National Institute of Geophysics, told 2M TV that the quake was “exceptional”.
He said: “Mountain areas in general do not produce earthquakes of this size.” “It is the strongest earthquake ever recorded in the region.”
In 1960, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck near the Moroccan city of Agadir, killing thousands.
The Agadir earthquake led to changes in building codes in Morocco, but many buildings, especially rural homes, were not built to withstand such tremors.
Friday’s quake was felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria, according to the Portuguese Institute of the Sea and Atmosphere and the Algerian Civil Defense Agency, which oversees the emergency response.
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