A powerful earthquake struck Morocco late Friday night, killing more than 600 people and damaging buildings from villages in the Atlas Mountains to the historic city of Marrakech. The toll was expected to rise as rescuers picked through the rubble Saturday and worked to reach remote areas.
In Marrakech, the nearest major city to the epicentre, some buildings collapsed in the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and local television showed pictures of a fallen minaret and cracked walls. The old city, also known as the medina, is famous for its red clay buildings, narrow alleys and bustling markets.
The Koutoubia Mosque, built in the 12th century and one of the landmarks of Marrakech, suffered damage, but the extent was not immediately clear. Its 69-meter (226-foot) minaret is known as the “roof of Marrakech” and can be seen from miles away.
State television reported that at least 632 people died, mostly in Marrakech and five provinces near the quake’s epicentre, and another 329 people were injured. The head of a town near the earthquake’s epicentre said several homes in nearby towns had partly or totally collapsed, and electricity and roads were cut off in some places.
The Moroccan government declared a state of emergency and mobilized the army, police and civil protection forces to assist the affected areas. King Mohammed VI expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and ordered an investigation into the causes and consequences of the disaster.
Morocco is located on a seismically active zone where the African and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The country has experienced several deadly earthquakes in its history, including a 6.3 magnitude quake in 1960 that killed about 12,000 people in Agadir.