Over 600 lives lost, historic buildings damaged in Morocco’s powerful quake

A rare and powerful earthquake struck Morocco late Friday night, killing more than 600 people and injuring hundreds more, destroying buildings, and sending residents of major cities into the streets in panic. The quake, which had a magnitude of 7.2, was the strongest to hit the country since 1960 when a magnitude 5.8 earthquake killed thousands of people in Agadir.

The epicenter of the quake was located in the Ighil area of the High Atlas Mountains, near Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa, and about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Marrakech, a popular tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The quake was felt as far as Rabat, the capital city, and Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco.

According to the Interior Ministry, at least 632 people died, mostly in Marrakech and five provinces near the epicenter, and another 329 were injured. The toll was expected to rise as rescuers searched for survivors under the rubble and tried to reach remote areas that were cut off by landslides and damaged roads.

State television and local media showed images of collapsed buildings, cracked walls, fallen minarets, and crushed cars in several towns and villages. Some of the most severe damage was reported in Marrakech, where the famous Koutoubia Mosque, built in the 12th century, suffered cracks in its 69-meter (226-foot) minaret, known as the “roof of Marrakech”. Parts of the red walls that surround the old city also crumbled, exposing the ancient structures inside.

Many people in Marrakech fled their homes and hotels after feeling the intense shaking and sought refuge in open spaces such as parks and squares. Some said they were awakened by the quake and heard dishes and wall hangings falling. Others said they felt dizzy and nauseous from the motion. Many people use their mobile phones to check for news and contact their relatives.

The Moroccan government declared a state of emergency and mobilized all available resources to assist the affected populations. King Mohammed VI expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and ordered an immediate relief operation. He also visited some of the injured people in hospitals in Marrakech and Rabat.

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