Rescuers dug through rubble for survivors in collapsed houses in remote mountain villages of Morocco on Saturday, in the wake of the country’s deadliest earthquake for more than six decades, which killed more than 1,300 people and left many homeless.
The quake that struck in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains late on Friday night damaged historic buildings in Marrakech – the nearest city to the epicentre – while most of the fatalities were reported in mountainous areas to the south.
The Interior Ministry said 1,305 people had been killed and 1,832 injured by the quake, gauged by the U.S. Geological Survey at a magnitude of 6.8 with an epicentre some 72 km (45 miles) southwest of Marrakech.
In the village of Amizmiz near the epicentre, rescue workers picked through rubble with their bare hands. Fallen masonry blocked narrow streets. Outside a hospital, around 10 bodies lay covered in blankets as grieving relatives stood nearby.
“When I felt the earth shaking beneath my feet and the house leaning, I rushed to get my kids out. But my neighbours couldn’t,” said Mohamed Azaw. “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.”
About 20 men including firefighters and soldiers in fatigues stood atop the ruin of a house in Amizmiz as they tried to remove rubble, bits of carpet and furniture protruding from gaps between pancaked concrete floors.
In Marrakech, where 13 people were confirmed dead, residents spent the night in the open, afraid to go home.
Buildings in its old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, suffered damage. A mosque minaret had fallen in Jemaa al-Fna Square, the heart of the old city.
Injured people filtered into Marrakech from the surrounding areas seeking treatment.
State television footage from the Moulay Ibrahim area some 40 km (25 miles) south of Marrakesh showed dozens of houses collapsed at the foothills of a mountain, and residents digging graves as groups of women stood in the street.
Montasir Itri, a resident of the village of Asni near the epicentre, said most houses there were damaged. “Our neighbours are under the rubble and people are working hard to rescue them using available means in the village,” he said.
Further west, near Taroudant, teacher Hamid Afkar said he had fled his home and felt aftershocks. “The earth shook for about 20 seconds. Doors opened and shut by themselves as I rushed downstairs from the second floor,” he said.
In Marrakech, residents described desperate scenes as people fled for safety. “I still can’t sleep in the house because of the shock and also because the old town is made up of old houses,” said Jaouhari Mohamed, an old city resident.
“If one falls, it will cause others to collapse,” he said.
The Interior Ministry urged calm, saying in a televised statement that the quake had hit the provinces of Al Haouz, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, Azilal, Chichaoua and Taroudant.
Morocco’s geophysical centre said the quake struck just after 11 p.m. (2200 GMT) in the Ighil area of the High Atlas.
It was Morocco’s deadliest since 1960 when a tremor was estimated to have killed at least 12,000 people, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Ighil, a mountainous area with small farming villages, is about 70 km (40 miles) southwest of Marrakech.
Spanish television RTVE reported tremors from the earthquake were felt in Huelva and Jaen in Andalusia, southern Spain.
Governments around the world expressed solidarity and offered assistance. Turkey, where powerful earthquakes in February killed more than 50,000 people, said it was ready to provide support.
Marrakech is due to host the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in early October.
In Marrakech, some houses in the tightly packed old city had collapsed and people used their hands to remove debris while they waited for heavy equipment, said resident Id Waaziz Hassan.
People in the capital city of Rabat, about 350 km north of Ighil, and in the coastal town of Imsouane, about 180 km to its west, also fled their homes, fearing a stronger quake, according to Reuters witnesses.
In Casablanca, some 250 km north of Ighil, people who spent the night in the streets were too scared to return to their homes.
“The house rocked aggressively, everyone was scared,” said resident Mohamed Taqafi.
Videos shared on social media of the immediate aftermath of the quake, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed people fearfully running out of a shopping centre, restaurants and apartment buildings and congregating outside.