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Powerful earthquake in Morocco kills more than 820 people

MARRAKECH, Morocco - A rare, powerful earthquake struck Morocco late Friday night, killing more than 800 people and damaging buildings from villages in the Atlas Mountains to the historic city of Marrakech.

The earthquake destroyed buildings and sent residents of major cities rushing from their homes in the country's deadliest tremor in more than six decades.

But the full toll was not known as rescuers struggled to get through boulder-strewn roads to the remote mountain villages hit hardest.

State television showed people clustered in the streets of Marrakech late at night, afraid to go back inside buildings that might still be unstable.

The magnitude-6.8 quake was the hardest to hit Morocco in 120 years, and it toppled buildings and walls in ancient cities made from stone and masonry that was not designed to withstand quakes.

The quake struck in Morocco's High Atlas mountains late on Friday night. The Interior Ministry said 820 people had been killed and another 672 injured, in an updated casualty toll. A local official said most deaths were in mountain areas that were hard to reach.

In Marrakech, the nearest big city to the epicentre, residents spent the night in the open, afraid to go home.

In Marrakech, the famous Koutoubia Mosque, built in the 12th century, suffered damage, but the extent was not immediately clear. Its 69-meter (226-foot) minaret is known as the “roof of Marrakech.” Moroccans also posted videos showing damage to parts of the famous red walls that surround the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Buildings in the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, suffered damage. A mosque minaret had fallen in Jemaa al-Fna Square, the heart of Marrakech's old city. Rescue workers dug through the rubble.

"Everything is by God's will, but we sustained great harm," said Miloud Skrout, a resident.


At least 820 people died, mostly in Marrakech and five provinces near the quake’s epicenter, and another 672 people were injured, Morocco’s Interior Ministry reported Saturday morning. Of the injured, the ministry wrote, 205 were seriously hurt.

Rescuers worked through the night, searching for survivors in darkness, dust and rubble.

Some 150 people, mostly relatives of the injured, were waiting outside a local hospital. Most had come from mountainous areas outside the city as their local hospitals lack capacity to treat serious injuries.

"I still can’t sleep in the house because of the shock and also because the old town is made up of old houses," said Jaouhari Mohamed, a resident of Marrakech old city, describing desperate scenes as people fled for safety.

"If one falls, it will cause others to collapse," he said.

An Australian tourist who gave her name as Tri said the room started shaking. "We just grabbed some clothes and our bags and we raced out," she said, clutching a pillow under her arm.

The Interior Ministry urged calm, saying in a televised statement that the quake had hit the provinces of Al Haouz, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, Azilal, Chichaoua and Taroudant.

Montasir Itri, a resident of the mountain village of Asni near the epicentre, said most houses there were damaged. "Our neighbours are under the rubble and people are working hard to rescue them using available means in the village," he said.

Further west, near Taroudant, teacher Hamid Afkar said he had fled his home and felt aftershocks. "The earth shook for about 20 seconds. Doors opened and shut by themselves as I rushed downstairs from the second floor," he said.

Morocco's geophysical centre said the quake struck just after 11 p.m. (2200 GMT) in the Ighil area of the High Atlas.

It was Morocco's deadliest since 1960 when a tremor was estimated to have killed at least 12,000 people, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Ighil, a mountainous area with small farming villages, is about 70 km (40 miles) southwest of Marrakech.

Spanish television RTVE reported tremors from the earthquake were felt in Huelva and Jaen in Andalusia, southern Spain.

Governments around the world expressed solidarity and offered assistance. Turkey, where powerful earthquakes in February killed more than 50,000 people, said it was ready to provide support.

Marrakech is due to host the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in early October.


MARRAKECH DAMAGE


In Marrakech, some houses in the tightly packed old city had collapsed and people used their hands to remove debris while they waited for heavy equipment, said resident Id Waaziz Hassan.

Footage of the medieval city wall showed big cracks in one section and parts that had fallen, with rubble lying on the street.

Another Marrakech resident, Brahim Himmi, said he saw ambulances coming out of the old town and many building facades damaged. He said people were frightened and were staying outside in case of another quake.

"The chandelier fell from the ceiling and I ran out. I'm still in the road with my children and we're scared," said Houda Hafsi, 43, in Marrakech.

Another woman there, Dalila Fahem, said there were cracks in her house and damage to her furniture. "Fortunately I hadn't gone to sleep yet," she said.

People in the capital city of Rabat, about 350 km north of Ighil, and in the coastal town of Imsouane, about 180 km to its west, also fled their homes, fearing a stronger quake, according to Reuters witnesses.

In Casablanca, some 250 km north of Ighil, people who spent the night in the streets were too scared to return to their homes.

"The house rocked aggressively, everyone was scared," said resident Mohamed Taqafi.

Videos shared on social media of the immediate aftermath of the quake, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed people fearfully running out of a shopping centre, restaurants and apartment buildings and congregating outside.
On the steep and winding switchbacks from Marrakech to Al Haouz, ambulances with sirens blaring and honking cars veered around piles of Mars-like red rock that had tumbled from the mountainside and blocked the road. Red Cross workers tried to clear a boulder blocking the two-lane highway.

Later Saturday morning in Marrakech, ambulances and motorcycles whirred by the edge of the old city, where business as usual mostly resumed Saturday morning. Tourists and passersby navigated roadblocks and snapped photos of sections of the clay ochre wall that had cracked, spilling fragments and dust onto the sidewalk and street.


Reactions from foreign governments to earthquake in Morocco


Following are reactions from foreign governments to the powerful earthquake that struck Morocco's High Atlas mountains late on Friday, killing hundreds and destroying buildings in the deadliest tremor to hit the country in decades.


INDIAN PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI, INAUGURATING A G20 SUMMIT IN NEW DELHI


"We pray that all the injured people get well soon. The entire world community is with Morocco in this difficult time and we are ready to provide them all possible assistance."


RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN IN A MESSAGE TO MOROCCO'S KING MOHAMMED VI


"Please accept my sincere condolences on the tragic consequences of the devastating earthquake in the central regions of your country. Russia shares the worry and sorrow of the friendly people of Morocco. Please convey words of sympathy and support to the families and friends of the victims, as well as wishes for a speedy recovery to all those who have suffered as a result of this natural disaster."


TURKISH PRESIDENT TAYYIP ERDOGAN


"We stand by our Moroccan brothers with all our means in this difficult day," he said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

In a separate statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Ankara was ready to provide all kinds of support "to heal the wounds of the earthquake in Morocco".


GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER ANNALENA BAERBOCK


"Awful images are reaching us from Morocco. Together with the people of Morocco, we mourn the victims of the terrible earthquake. Our thoughts are with them and all those who are searching for those buried in these hours and fighting for the lives of the many injured."


FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON


"We are all shocked after the terrible earthquake in Morocco. France stands ready to help first aid responses."


FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER CATHERINE COLONNA


"Solidarity with Morocco and our friends, the Moroccan people after the night's terrible quake. Compassionate thoughts for the victims and their families and admiration for the work of rescue crews who relentlessly help the injured."

The Foreign Ministry later said in a statement: Our embassy in Morocco and the crisis center of the Ministry in Paris have opened crisis centers to respond to demands for information or help from our compatriots.

France stands in full support of authorities and people in Morocco during this ordeal and is ready to provide immediately its help for the rescue and assistance to the populations affected by this tragedy."


SPAIN'S ACTING PRIME MINISTER PEDRO SANCHEZ


"All my solidarity with the people of Morocco in the face of the terrible earthquake ... Spain stands with the victims of this tragedy and their families."


TAIWAN


Taiwan’s fire department says it has put a team of 120 rescuers on standby to go to Morocco who can go the moment they get instructions from Taiwan’s foreign ministry.


UNITED ARAB EMIRATES


In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its sincere condolences to the government and people of Morocco, and to the families of the victims of this tragedy, as well as its wishes for a speedy recovery for all the injured.


SWEDISH PRIME MINISTER ULF KRISTERSSON


"Devastating earthquake in Morocco last night. Our thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones."