A rare, powerful earthquake struck Morocco late Friday night, killing more than 800 people and damaging buildings from villages in the Atlas Mountains to the historic city of Marrakech. But the full toll was not known as rescuers struggled to get through boulder-strewn roads to the remote mountain villages hit hardest.
People woken by the quake ran into the streets in terror and disbelief. State television showed people clustered in the streets of Marrakech late at night, afraid to go back inside buildings that might still be unstable.
A man said he was visiting a nearby apartment when dishes and wall hangings began raining down, and people were knocked off their feet and chairs. A woman described fleeing her house after an “intense vibration.’’ A man holding a child said he was jarred awake in bed by the shaking.
The magnitude-6.8 quake was the hardest to hit Morocco in 120 years, and it toppled buildings and walls in ancient cities made from stone and masonry that was not designed to withstand quakes.
The problem is that where destructive earthquakes are rare, buildings are simply not constructed robustly enough to cope with strong ground shaking, so many collapse resulting in high casualties,” said Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London. “I would expect the final death toll to climb into the thousands once more is known. As with any big quake, aftershocks are likely, which will lead to further casualties and hinder search and rescue.”
In Marrakech, the famous Koutoubia Mosque, built in the 12th century, suffered damage, but the extent was not immediately clear. Its 69-meter (226-foot) minaret is known as the “roof of Marrakech.” Moroccans also posted videos showing damage to parts of the famous red walls that surround the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
At least 820 people died, mostly in Marrakech and five provinces near the quake’s epicenter, and another 672 people were injured, Morocco’s Interior Ministry reported Saturday morning. Of the injured, the ministry wrote, 205 were seriously hurt.
Rescuers worked through the night, searching for survivors in darkness, dust and rubble.