At least 2,000 killed after Morocco struck by strongest earthquake in a century

The quake and a weaker aftershock hit just after midnight, leaving cars flattened by fallen debris, historic buildings crumbling and citizens trapped under rubble

At least 2,000 people have died in the strongest earthquake to hit Morocco in over a century, with the number of dead expected to rise in the coming hours.

The rare, powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Morocco late on Friday night, leaving a further 2,000 people injured according to reports.In the wake of the disaster King Mohammed VI declared 3 days of national mourning and ordered help and support for any survivors.

Many of the victims are in hard to reach mountainous areas, while the historic city of Marrakech has been badly hit.

A frantic rescue mission is underway on Saturday with fears many more could be trapped under collapsed buildings.

Footage showed a hole gaped in the side of a home, and a car nearly buried by the chunks of a collapsed building, while baskets and clothing could be seen amid scattered stones in the remains of one building.

Rescuers working to save people trapped in the wreckage. Credit: AP

Images shared online showed people running and screaming near the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, one of the city’s most famed landmarks.

Moroccan media reported that the mosque suffered damage, but the extent was not immediately clear.

Moroccan television also showed scenes from the aftermath, as many stayed outside fearing aftershocks and anxious families stood in streets or huddled on the pavement, some carrying children, blankets or other belongings.

Most of the tiny village of Moulay Brahim, carved into a mountainside south of Marrakech, was uninhabitable after walls crumbled, windows shattered and more than a dozen homes were reduced to piles of concrete and bent metal poles. At least five residents were trapped.

Hundreds have been killed by fallen buildings. Credit: AP

Ayoub Toudite said he had been working out with friends at the gym when “we felt a huge shake like it was doomsday.” In 10 seconds, he said, everything was gone.

“We found casualties and people running and kids crying,” he told The Associated Press. “We never saw anything like this, 20 deaths in the area, 30 injuries."

Rescuers were using hammers and axes to free a man trapped under a two-story building. People capable of squeezing into the tiny space were giving him water.

“We are all terrified that this happens again,” Toudite said.

Moroccans also posted videos showing parts of the famous red walls that surround the old city in Marrakech, a UNESCO World Heritage site, damaged.

Moroccan Red Crescent workers help remove large stones which fell on roads during the earthquake. Credit: AP

The head of a town near the earthquake's epicentre told Moroccan news site 2M that several homes in nearby towns had partly or totally collapsed, and electricity and roads were cut off in some places.

Abderrahim Ait Daoud, head of the town of Talat N’Yaaqoub, said authorities are working to clear roads in Al Haouz Province to allow passage for ambulances and aid to populations affected, but said large distances between mountain villages mean it will take time to learn the extent of the damage.

Local media reported that roads leading to the mountain region around the epicenter were jammed with vehicles and blocked with collapsed rocks, slowing rescue efforts.

President Joe Biden was among world leaders expressing sadness at the devastation facing the North African kingdom of Morocco after a powerful earthquake shook Marrakesh and its environs and killed more than 1,000 people.

Biden said on Saturday that US officials had been in contact with Morocco to offer help.

“We are working expeditiously to ensure American citizens in Morocco are safe, and stand ready to provide any necessary assistance for the Moroccan people," he said.

"The United States stands by Morocco and my friend King Mohammed VI at this difficult moment.”

Rishi Sunak posted his condolences on X, formerly Twitter, as did German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, currently hosting the G20 summit of the world’s largest economies, wrote that “India is ready to offer all possible assistance to Morocco in this difficult time.”

A UN spokesperson said that “the United Nations is ready to assist the government of Morocco in its efforts to assist the impacted population.”

In an exceptional move, Algeria offered to open its airspace to allow eventual humanitarian aid or medical evacuation flights to travel to and from Morocco.

Women comfort each other after a burial for people killed by the earthquake. Credit: AP

Algeria closed the airspace when its government severed diplomatic ties with Morocco in 2021 over a series of issues - the countries have a decades-long dispute involving the territory of Western Sahara.

The US Geological Survey said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 when it hit at 11.11 p.m. (10.11pm GMT), with shaking that lasted several seconds.

It reported that a magnitude-4.9 aftershock hit 19 minutes later.

Friday's quake was felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria, according to the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere and Algeria's Civil Defense agency, which oversees emergency response.

The epicentre of Friday’s tremor was near the town of Ighil in Al Haouz Province, roughly 70 kilometres (43.5 miles) south of Marrakech.

The USGS said the epicenter was 18 kilometres (11 miles) below the Earth’s surface, while Morocco’s seismic agency put it at 11 kilometres (7 miles) down. Such shallow quakes are more dangerous.

A man walks past a damaged wall of the historic Medina of Marrakech. Credit: AP

Earthquakes are relatively rare in North Africa. Lahcen Mhanni, Head of the Seismic Monitoring and Warning Department at the National Institute of Geophysics, told 2M TV that the earthquake was the strongest ever recorded in the mountain region.

In 1960, a magnitude 5.8 tremor struck near the Moroccan city of Agadir and caused thousands of deaths.

The Agadir quake prompted changes in construction rules in Morocco, but many buildings, especially rural homes, are not built to withstand such tremors.

In 2004, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake near the Mediterranean coastal city of Al Hoceima left more than 600 dead.

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