A powerful earthquake that struck Morocco late Friday night has killed more than 2,000 people and injured more than 2,000 others, according to the latest official figures. The 6.8-magnitude quake, the biggest to hit the country in 120 years, damaged historic buildings in Marrakech and toppled houses in remote mountain villages.
The Moroccan authorities have declared three days of national mourning and mobilized the armed forces to assist in the rescue efforts. King Mohammed VI ordered the deployment of specialized search and rescue teams and a surgical field hospital.
The epicenter of the earthquake was at a depth of 18.5 km (11.5 miles) and occurred about 72 km (44 miles) northeast of Marrakech, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said. The quake was felt across Morocco and in neighboring countries such as Algeria and Spain.
In Marrakech, the nearest city to the epicenter, people fled from their homes and restaurants into the streets as the ground shook. Some parts of the famous red walls that surround the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, were damaged. The 12th century Koutoubia Mosque, known for its 226-foot minaret, also suffered some damage.
However, most of the fatalities and injuries were reported in mountainous areas to the south in the Al-Haouz and Taroudant provinces, where many villages are isolated and lack basic infrastructure. The traditional clay bricks used by the region’s Berber inhabitants proved no match for the rare quake.
In Tafeghaghte, a village near the quake’s epicenter, almost no buildings were left standing. Residents said they lost their family members, friends and neighbors under the rubble.
Rescuers faced difficulties in reaching some of the affected areas due to boulder-strewn roads and landslides. Some villages also lost electricity and cellphone service, hampering communication and coordination. The Moroccan Red Crescent said it had deployed more than 500 volunteers and staff to provide emergency relief.
The international community has expressed solidarity with Morocco and offered assistance. The European Union said it was ready to provide humanitarian aid and civil protection support. The United Nations said it was in contact with the Moroccan authorities and monitoring the situation closely.
Morocco is located on a complex tectonic boundary where the African and Eurasian plates converge. The country has experienced several devastating earthquakes in its history, including one in 1960 that killed about 12,000 people in Agadir.