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Powerful earthquake strikes Morocco, killing dozens and damaging buildings

A powerful earthquake struck Morocco late Friday, killing several dozen people, damaging buildings in major cities and sending panicked people pouring into streets and alleyways from the capital Rabat to Marrakech, the county’s most visited tourist destination.

At least 31 people were killed, local media reported. Twenty-seven people died in the region of Marrakech, and four others in the province of Ouarzazate farther south, reports said.

Government officials had made no comment on the extent of the quake’s impact as of early Saturday. Official reports on damage and casualties often take time to filter in after many earthquakes, particularly those that hit in the middle of the night.

Moroccans posted videos showing some buildings turned to rubble and dust and parts of the famous red walls that surround the old city in historical Marrakech damaged. Tourists and others posted videos of people evacuating restaurants in the city as throbbing club music played.

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.

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The US Geological Survey said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 when it hit at 11:11 p.m., with shaking that lasted several seconds. Morocco’s National Seismic Monitoring and Alert Network measured it at 7 on the Richter scale. The US agency reported a magnitudue-4.9 aftershock that hit 19 minutes later.

This is awful #Morocco #Maroc pic.twitter.com/wDmF8RzhoZ

— Volcaholic ???? (@volcaholic1) September 8, 2023

Variations in early measurements are common, but 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 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) 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 18 kilometers (11 miles) below the Earth’s surface, while Morocco’s seismic agency put it at 8 kilometers (5 miles) down.