At least 632 people died in a powerful earthquake that devastated Morocco on Friday night, causing widespread damage and panic in Marrakech, a tourist Mecca, and several other cities, according to a provisional official toll.
The Rabat-based National Centre for Scientific and Technical Research (CNRST) said the earthquake measured 7 degrees on the Richter scale and that its epicentre was located in the province of Al-Haouz, south-west of the city of Marrakech, a popular destination for foreign tourists.
"According to a provisional report, this earthquake caused the death of 296 people in the provinces and municipalities of Al-Haouz, Marrakech, Ouarzazate, Azilal, Chichaoua and Taroudant", the ministry said in a statement. According to the same source, 392 people were injured and hospitalised.
According to the Moroccan media, this is the most powerful earthquake to hit the kingdom to date.
According to images reproduced by the media and on social networks and witnesses, the earthquake caused extensive damage in several towns.
Images showed part of a minaret collapsing on the famous Jemaa el-Fna square, the beating heart of Marrakech, injuring two people.
An AFP correspondent saw hundreds of people flocking to the square to spend the night for fear of aftershocks. Some had blankets, others were sleeping on the ground.
"We were walking around Jemaa el-Fna when the earth started to shake, it was a really staggering sensation. We're safe and sound, but I'm still in shock. At least ten members of my family died in Ijoukak (rural commune of Al-Haouz, editor's note). I can't believe it, because no more than two days ago I was with them", Houda Outassaf, a resident of the town she met in the square, told AFP.
"Lucky to be alive"
Mimi Theobald, a 25-year-old English tourist, was about to have dessert on the terrace of a restaurant with some friends "when the tables started shaking and the dishes started flying, and we panicked".
"Afterwards, we tried to go to our hotel to collect our luggage and passports because our flight was scheduled for tomorrow, but it was impossible because our hotel is located in the Medina. There was debris everywhere, it wasn't very safe. It's the first time we've seen an earthquake. When the adrenalin wore off, we realised how lucky we were to be alive", she adds.
In addition to Marrakech, the tremor was felt in Rabat, Casablanca, Agadir and Essaouira, causing panic among the population. Many people took to the streets of these cities, fearing that their homes would collapse, according to images posted on social networks.
In photos and videos posted by Internet users, large sections of debris can be seen in the streets of Marrakech's Medina. But also cars crushed by stones.
"I was in bed when everything started to shake. I thought my bed was going to fly away. I went out into the street half-naked and immediately went to my riads. It was total chaos, a real catastrophe, madness", Frenchman Michaël Bizet, 43, owner of three traditional houses in the old town of Marrakech, told AFP by phone.
"Screaming and crying"
The regional blood transfusion centre in Marrakech called on residents to go to its premises on Saturday to donate blood for the injured.
"It was like a river bursting its banks. The screams and cries were unbearable", said another resident of the city, Fayssal Badour, 58.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, host of this weekend's G20 summit in New Delhi, expressed his condolences to the families of the earthquake victims, saying in a message on X (formerly Twitter) that he was "extremely saddened by the loss of life".
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also sent a message of condolence after the "devastating" earthquake, referring to the "terrible news from Morocco".
On 24 February 2004, an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale shook the province of Al Hoceima, 400 km north-east of Rabat, killing 628 people and causing extensive material damage.
And on 29 February 1960, an earthquake destroyed Agadir, on the country's west coast, killing more than 12,000 people - a third of the city's population.