At least 632 people have been killed and more than 300 injured after a rare, powerful earthquake struck Morocco late on Friday, according to local reports.
Residents of Marrakech, the nearest big city to the epicentre, said some buildings had collapsed in the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Moroccan TV showed pictures of a fallen mosque minaret with rubble lying on smashed cars.
Anxious families stood in streets or huddled on the pavement, some carrying children, blankets or other belongings fearing aftershocks.
Emergency workers looked for survivors in the rubble of buildings, their reflective yellow vests illuminating the night-time landscape.
The quake ripped a gaping hole in a home, and a car was nearly buried by the chunks of a collapsed building.
Baskets, buckets and clothing could be seen amid scattered stones in the remains of one building.
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 in the Ighil area of the High Atlas with a magnitude of 7.2.
The US Geological Survey put the quake’s magnitude at 6.8 and said it was at a relatively shallow depth of 11.5 miles.
Ighil, a mountainous area with small farming villages, is about 40 miles southwest of Marrakech. The quake struck just after 11pm local time.
The earthquake is Morocco’s deadliest since a 2004 tremor near Al Hoceima in the northern Rif mountains killed over 600 people.
Other images shared online showed people running and screaming near the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, one of the city’s most famed landmarks.
Moroccan media reported that the mosque suffered damage, but the extent was not immediately clear. Its 226-foot minaret is known as the ‘roof of Marrakech’.
Moroccans also posted videos showing parts of the famous red walls that surround the old city in Marrakech, a UNESCO World Heritage site, damaged.
The head of a town near the earthquake’s epicentre told Moroccan news site 2M that several homes in nearby towns had partly or totally collapsed, and electricity and roads were cut off in some places.
Abderrahim Ait Daoud, head of the town of Talat N’Yaaqoub, said authorities are working to clear roads in Al Haouz Province to allow passage for ambulances and aid to populations affected, but said large distances between mountain villages mean it will take time to learn the extent of the damage.
Local media reported that roads leading to the mountain region around the epicentre were jammed with vehicles and blocked with collapsed rocks, slowing rescue efforts.
Earthquakes are relatively rare in North Africa.
Lahcen Mhanni, Head of the Seismic Monitoring and Warning Department at the National Institute of Geophysics, told 2M TV that the earthquake was the strongest ever recorded in the mountain region.
In 1960, a magnitude 5.8 tremor struck near the Moroccan city of Agadir and caused thousands of deaths.
The Agadir quake prompted changes in construction rules in Morocco, but many buildings, especially rural homes, are not built to withstand such tremors.
In 2004, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake near the Mediterranean coastal city of Al Hoceima left more than 600 dead.
Friday’s quake was felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria, according to the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere and Algeria’s Civil Defense agency, which oversees emergency response.
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