A powerful earthquake that struck Morocco late Friday night killed at least 296 people, the country’s Interior Ministry said.
Moroccans posted videos showing buildings reduced to rubble and dust and parts of the famous red walls that surround the old city in historic Marrakech, a UNESCO World Heritage site, damaged. Tourists and others posted videos of people screaming and evacuating restaurants in the city as throbbing club music played.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 when it hit at 11:11 p.m. (2211 GMT), with shaking that lasted several seconds. Morocco’s National Seismic Monitoring and Alert Network measured it at 7 on the Richter scale. The U.S. agency reported a magnitude-4.9 aftershock hit 19 minutes later.
Variations in early measurements are common, although either reading would be Morocco’s strongest in years. Though earthquakes are relatively rare in North Africa, a magnitude 5.8 tremor struck near Agadir and caused thousands of deaths in 1960.
The epicentre of Friday’s tremor was high in the Atlas Mountains roughly 70 kilometres (43.5 miles) south of Marrakech. It was also near Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa and Oukaimeden, a popular Moroccan ski resort.
The USGS said the epicentre was 18 kilometres (11 miles) below the Earth’s surface, while Morocco’s seismic agency put it at 8 kilometres (5 miles) down.
Beyond reports on the quake’s magnitude, neither Moroccan officials nor MAP, Morocco’s official news agency, had published any information about casualties or damages as of early Saturday. Government officials typically use the agency to communicate information about important matters.
The quake was felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria, according to the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere and Algeria’s Civil Defence agency, which oversees emergency response.