A powerful earthquake struck Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains late Friday, killing at least 296 people, destroying buildings and sending residents of major cities fleeing their homes.
The interior ministry said the figure constituted a preliminary death toll, with 153 others injured.
A local official said most of the deaths occurred in hard-to-reach mountainous areas.
Residents of Marrakech, the big city closest to the epicenter, said some buildings in the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, had collapsed, and local television showed pictures of a collapsed mosque minaret with rubble lying on the ground. On the smashed car.
Pan-Arab news channels reported that five people from one family were killed, citing unnamed local sources.
The interior ministry urged calm in a televised statement on the death toll, saying the quake hit the provinces of Hauz, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, Azilal, Chichaoua and Taroudant Province.
Montasir Yitri, a resident of the mountain village of Asni near the epicenter, said most houses there were damaged.
“Our neighbors are under the rubble and people are trying to rescue them using the means available in the village,” he said.
Further west, near Taroudant, teacher Hamid Afkar said he had fled his home as aftershocks followed the initial quake.
“The ground shook for about 20 seconds. When I rushed downstairs from the second floor, the door opened and closed automatically,” he said.
The Moroccan Geophysical Center said the earthquake occurred in the Igil region of the High Atlas Mountains and had a magnitude of 7.2.
The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude of the quake at 6.8 and said its depth was relatively shallow at 11.5 miles.
Ighil is a mountainous area with small villages located approximately 40 miles southwest of Marrakech.The earthquake occurred just after 11 p.m.
The quake was Morocco’s worst since a 2004 earthquake near Al Hoceima in the northern Rif Mountains, which killed more than 600 people.
In Marrakech, some houses in the crowded old city have collapsed and people are working to clear the debris by hand while waiting for heavy equipment, resident Id Waaziz Hassan said.
Footage of the medieval city wall showed large cracks in part of the wall, parts of the building collapsed and rubble strewn across the streets.
Brahim Himmi, another Marrakech resident, said he saw ambulances leaving the old city and that many building facades were damaged.
He said people were scared and staying outside in case there was another earthquake.
“The chandelier fell from the ceiling and I ran out. I’m still on the road with my children and we are all scared,” said Houda Hafsi, 43, of Marrakech.
Another woman there, Dalila Fahem, said her house had cracks and furniture was damaged. “Luckily I’m not asleep yet,” she said.
People in Rabat, about 220 miles north of Igil, and the coastal town of Imsuan, about 180 kilometers to the west, also fled their homes fearing a stronger earthquake, Reuters witnesses said.
Videos of the aftermath of the quake shared on social media, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed terrified people running out of shopping malls, restaurants and apartment buildings and gathering outside.