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7 magnitude earthquake strikes Morocco, damages buildings and sending people into the streets

RABAT, Morocco (AP) – Buildings were damaged and people poured into the streets and alleyways in a panic when a powerful earthquake struck Morocco late Friday, affecting cities from the capital Rabat to Marrakech, the county’s most visited tourist destination.

There was no immediate word on whether there were any injuries or deaths. Government officials had made no comment on the extent of the quake’s impact as of early Saturday.

Moroccans posted videos showing some buildings turned to rubble and dust and parts of the famous red walls that surround the old city in historic Marrakech damaged. Tourists and others posted videos of people 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 US Geological Survey said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 when it hit at 11.11pm, 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 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 epicentre of Friday’s tremor was high in the Atlas Mountains roughly 70 kilometres 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 epicentre was 18 kilometres below the Earth’s surface, while Morocco’s seismic agency put it at 8 kilometres 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.

People take shelter and check for news on their mobile phones after an earthquake in Rabat, Morocco late Friday. PHOTO: AP