A powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck Morocco late Friday night, killing at least 296 people and injuring more than 150, according to the country’s Interior Ministry. The quake was the strongest to hit that part of the North African nation in more than 120 years, according to the US Geological Survey.
The epicenter of the quake was in the High Atlas mountains, about 72 kilometers (44.7 miles) southwest of Marrakech, a city of some 840,000 people and a popular tourist destination. The quake caused widespread damage and panic, especially in the old city of Marrakech, a Unesco world heritage site, where some buildings collapsed and parts of the famous red walls that surround the historic area were cracked or crumbled.
Thousands of people fled their houses and residential buildings after the country’s National Institute of Geophysics warned of aftershocks. The quake was felt as far as Rabat, about 350 kilometers (220 miles) north of the epicenter, and in the coastal town of Imsouane, about 180 kilometers to its west.
Morocco’s Interior Ministry said most of the casualties occurred outside of cities and towns, mainly in mountainous areas that were hard to reach. A local official said dozens of people had been killed in the town of Ighil in Al Haouz Province, near the epicenter.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and ordered an immediate mobilization of all resources available to deal with the tragedy. He also instructed the government to provide financial and material assistance to those affected by the quake.
The earthquake is a rare and devastating event for Morocco, which lies on a complex boundary where the African and Eurasian tectonic plates converge. The last major quake to hit Morocco was in 1960, when a 5.7-magnitude tremor killed about 12,000 people in the city of Agadir.