A powerful earthquake struck Morocco late Friday night, killing hundreds of people and damaging buildings and historic landmarks in major cities.
Morocco's Interior Ministry said early Saturday that at least 296 people had died in the provinces near the quake. Additionally, 153 injured people were sent to hospitals for treatment. The ministry wrote that most damage occurred outside of cities and towns.
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.
Reports on damage and any casualties often take time to filter in after many earthquakes, particularly those that hit in the middle of the night.
Rather than return to concrete buildings, men, women and children stayed out in the streets worried about aftershocks and other reverberations that could cause their homes to sway.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 when it hit at 11:11 p.m local time (8:11am AEDT), 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 epicenter of Friday's tremor was high in the Atlas Mountains roughly 70km 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 epicenter was 18km below the Earth’s surface, while Morocco’s seismic agency put it at 8km 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.