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Morocco earthquake kills hundreds and levels buildings around Atlas mountains

Many victims believed to be in hard-to-reach areas with Marrakech Old City also hit
Residents stay out at a square following an earthquake in Marrakech (AFP)

An earthquake has rocked Morocco’s Atlas mountains, killing hundreds of people and flooring buildings in several surrounding governorates.

On Saturday morning state TV quoted the interior ministry as saying the preliminary death toll stood at 822, with another 672 injured. As the quake hit mountainous areas, access to victims is believed to be difficult.

The ministry said the provinces of Al Haouz, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, Azilal, Chichaoua and Taroudant were affected. Reuters reported that buildings in Marrakech’s Old City, a World Heritage Site, had collapsed.

Five people from one family were killed in one such incident, al-Arabiya reported.

The powerful earthquake was measured by the Moroccan geophysical centre as having a magnitude of 7.2, with the US geological survey putting it at 6.8.

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Its epicentre is believed to have been the Ighil area of the High Atlas, some 70 km southwest of Marrakech.

"Our neighbours are under the rubble and people are working hard to rescue them using available means in the village," Montasir Itri, a resident of Asni village near the epicentre, told Reuters.

As victims began arriving at Marrakech hospitals, the city’s blood transfusion centre launched an urgent appeal for donations.

“We urgently appeal to all citizens, especially those in the city of Marrakech, to donate blood to assist the injuries,” Morocco World News quoted the centre saying, adding a lot of blood would be needed.

Videos circulating online show people fleeing as the powerful tremors hit, and piles of rubble where buildings once stood.

A view of debris in the aftermath of an earthquake in Marrakech (Reuters)
A view of debris in the aftermath of an earthquake in Marrakech (Reuters)

Engineer Faisal Baddour told AFP he felt the quake three times in his building.

"People went out into the street just after this total panic, and there are families who are still sleeping outside because we were so scared of the force of this earthquake," he said.

"It was as if a train was passing close to our houses."

One video appears to show the minaret of Marrakech’s famous Kutubiyya Mosque, which is nearly 1,000 years old, emanating dust, sparking fears it could collapse.

This is a developing story...

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