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Powerful earthquake strikes Morocco, killing 300 and damaging historic Marrakech

A powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck Morocco on Friday night, resulting in nearly 300 fatalities and causing significant damage to buildings, particularly in the historic city of Marrakech. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), this earthquake is the strongest to hit that part of Morocco in over a century.

The earthquake occurred in Morocco’s High Atlas mountain range shortly after 11 p.m. local time, at a relatively shallow depth of 18.5 kilometers (11.4 miles). The epicenter was located approximately 72 kilometers (44.7 miles) southwest of Marrakech, a popular tourist destination with a population of around 840,000 people.

Morocco’s Interior Ministry reported at least 296 people killed and 153 others wounded as of Saturday. Many residents spent the night on the streets in various cities due to fear of aftershocks, while rescue efforts were underway to locate individuals trapped in the rubble. Health authorities issued a plea for blood donations to aid the victims.

The most affected areas were mountainous and difficult to access, hampering rescue operations. Damaged roads further hindered the efforts of rescue teams. The Royal Moroccan Armed Forces warned residents to remain vigilant for potential aftershocks.

The USGS noted that earthquakes of this magnitude in the region are uncommon but not unexpected. It also warned of significant damage, particularly to structures vulnerable to earthquake shaking.

Buildings collapsed near the epicenter, and thousands of people fled their homes in anticipation of aftershocks. The mountain village of Asni, near the epicenter, saw most houses damaged, with efforts to rescue those trapped in the rubble ongoing.

Tremors were felt in other areas as well, including Taroudant, where residents reported aftershocks following the initial earthquake.

In the city of Marrakech, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its historic architecture, some houses collapsed, and residents worked to clear debris by hand while waiting for heavy equipment. The earthquake also caused damage to the city’s ancient walls.

Marrakech, also known as the “red city” due to its red sandstone buildings, is a major tourist destination and economic center in Morocco. It drew nearly three million tourists in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The impact of the earthquake extended to the capital, Rabat, located around 350 kilometers (217 miles) north of the High Atlas mountains.

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