A strong earthquake strikes Morocco, killing hundreds and damaging historical buildings

A strong earthquake struck Morocco late Friday night, killing hundreds of people and damaging buildings and historical monuments in major cities.

The Moroccan Interior Ministry said early Saturday that at least 296 people had died in provinces near the earthquake. In addition, 153 wounded were sent to hospitals for treatment. The ministry wrote that most of the damage occurred outside cities and towns.

Moroccans posted video clips showing buildings turned into rubble and dust, and parts of the famous red walls surrounding the old city of Marrakesh, listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, were damaged. Tourists and others posted videos of people screaming and emptying restaurants in the city while soft club music played.

Reports on damage and any loss of life often take a long time after many earthquakes, especially those that occur in the middle of the night.

Instead of returning to concrete buildings, men, women and children remained on the streets, worried about aftershocks and other echoes that could cause their homes to shake.

The US Geological Survey said that the earthquake’s magnitude reached 6.8 when it occurred at 11:11 pm (2211 GMT), with a tremor that lasted several seconds. The National Earthquake Monitoring and Warning Network in Morocco measured it at 7 on the Richter scale. The US agency reported that a 4.9 magnitude aftershock occurred 19 minutes later.

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Differences in early measurements are common, although any reading would be the strongest in Morocco in years. Although earthquakes are relatively rare in North Africa, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake near Agadir killed thousands in 1960.

The epicenter of the earthquake on Friday was high in the Atlas Mountains, about 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) south of Marrakesh. It was also near Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa and Oukaimeden, the famous Moroccan ski resort.

The US Geological Survey said that the epicenter of the quake was at a depth of 18 kilometers (11 miles) below the surface of the Earth, while the Moroccan Seismic Agency determined its epicenter at a depth of 8 kilometers (5 miles).

Other than reports about the strength of the quake, neither Moroccan officials nor the Maghreb Arab Press had published any information about casualties or damage 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 of the Sea and Atmosphere and the Algerian Civil Defense Agency, which oversees the emergency response.

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