By Tom Ozimek
A rare, powerful earthquake in Morocco has killed over 1,000 people and injured hundreds more, with the toll expected to rise as rescuers struggled Saturday to reach survivors through the rubble of toppled buildings.
The magnitude-6.8 quake, Morocco’s deadliest in over sixty years, struck the country’s High Atlast mountains late Friday night, damaging buildings in Marrakech, the closest city to the epicenter, which was some 45 miles southwest.
The country’s Interior Ministry said that 1,037 people had been killed and another 1,204 injured, with most of the fatalities in mountain regions. The Ministry said that 721 of the injured were in critical condition.
In the village of Amizmiz, located near the epicenter, rescue workers picked through rubble while toppled masonry filled the streets.
Grieving relatives stood near a hospital, where around 10 bodies lay covered in blankets.
“When I felt the earth shaking beneath my feet and the house leaning, I rushed to get my kids out. But my neighbors couldn’t,” local resident Mohamed Azaw told Reuters. “Unfortunately no one was found alive in that family. The father and son were found dead and they are still looking for the mother and the daughter.”
In the city of Marrakech, where 13 fatalities were reported, the quake sent people fleeing into darkened streets in terror.
Morocco state television broadcast images of people clustering in the streets, many wrapping themselves in blankets as they tried to sleep outside, wary of going back into buildings that they feared might still crumble.
Street camera footage in Marrakech showed the moment the earth began to shake, as men suddenly looked around and jumped up, and others ran for shelter into an alleyway and then fled as dust and debris tumbled around them.
State television footage from the Moulay Ibrahim area some 25 miles south of Marrakech showed dozens of houses collapsed at the foothills of a mountain. Groups of women stood in the street while some residents dug graves.
Montasir Itri, a resident of the village of Asni near the epicenter, said most houses there were damaged.
“Our neighbors are under the rubble and people are working hard to rescue them using available means in the village,” he told Reuters.
The Moroccan military deployed aircraft, helicopters, and drones, while emergency services mobilized aid efforts to the hardest areas.
Roads leading to the mountain region around the epicenter were jammed with vehicles and blocked with fallen rocks, slowing rescue efforts.
Trucks loaded with blankets, camp cots, and lighting equipment were trying to region that hard-hit area, according to state news agency MAP.
It was Morocco’s deadliest earthquake since 1960, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
In 1960, a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 5.8 hit near Agadir in Morocco, with the tremor estimated to have killed at least 12,000 people. This earthquake prompted changes in construction rules in Morocco, but many buildings, especially houses outside urban areas, are still not strong enough to withstand major seismic activity.
Turkey, where powerful earthquakes in February killed more than 50,000 people, said it was ready to provide support.
Algeria, which broke off ties with Morocco last year, said it would open airspace for humanitarian and medical flights.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.