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A powerful earthquake struck Morocco on Friday night, killing more than 1,300 people in the High Atlas region near the medieval city of Marrakech.
Morocco’s interior ministry on Saturday evening said that 1,305 people had been killed and another 1,832 injured, according to AP. The earthquake, which struck shortly after 11pm, hit hardest in the provinces of Al Haouz, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, Azilal, Chichaoua and Taroudant. The tremors were felt as far as Rabat and Casablanca on the Atlantic coast, where some residents fled their homes and spent the night on the streets.
Rescuers have spent the day digging for survivors through the rubble of homes in remote mountain villages in the High Atlas in central Morocco where most of the deaths have occurred. The interior ministry said the highest number of fatalities were recorded in Al Haouz province, with 694 killed; and Taroudant, with 347.
Landslides triggered by the earthquake have delayed access to some villages. Authorities in Marrakech have called on residents to donate blood. The government has announced three days of national mourning and the army has been drafted in to help with the rescue operation and aid delivery.
The World Health Organization said more than 300,000 people were affected in Marrakech and surrounding areas.
The earthquake, which Morocco’s geophysical centre said struck in the Ighil area of the High Atlas with a magnitude of 7.2, was the most powerful to have hit the country since a 2004 tremor in al Hoceima in the northern Rif mountains killed 600 people. The US Geological Survey put the latest quake’s magnitude at 6.8.
Video footage showed rubble covering cars in a street in the old town of Marrakech where buildings and the minaret from a mosque had collapsed. Hundreds of locals and tourists fled their hotels and homes in fear of aftershocks and have gathered in the city’s famed Jemaa al-Fnaa square.
CCTV footage of moment of earthquake in Marrakech
The old city centre, with its markets, traditional houses, museums and mosques, is a Unesco world heritage site. Local reports say that a section of the medieval city wall surrounding the centre had cracked.
Montasir Itri, a resident of the mountain village of Asni near the epicentre, told Reuters that many houses there were damaged. “Our neighbours are under the rubble,” he added.
Beyond the destruction and loss of life, authorities will be worried about the earthquake’s impact on tourism. Marrakech is a popular travel destination and the number of visitors is expected to surpass pre-Covid levels this year. According to the tourism ministry, Morocco was on track to attract a record 14mn visitors in 2023.