A survivor of the Morocco earthquake recalled hearing blood-curdling screams as it struck, with residents running into the street in terror and disbelief.
State television showed people clustered in the roads of Marrakesh late at night, afraid to go back inside buildings that might still be unstable.
Yacine Kourkouz said she could hear mothers screaming in anguish as they tried to protect their crying children.
Kourkouz told BFMTV: “We had a terrible night, we absolutely didn’t expect it.
“We heard mothers screaming, children crying, we said to ourselves, ‘but what is happening to us?’. We spent more time outside than inside because we were afraid everything would collapse again.”
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The famous Koutoubia Mosque, built in the 12th century, suffered damage, but the extent was not immediately clear.
Its 226-foot minaret is known as the “roof of Marrakesh”. Moroccans also posted videos showing damage to parts of the famous red walls which surround the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Moroccan Interior Ministry has estimated 822 people have died in the earthquake, with at least 672 severely injured. Marrakech was one of the worst-hit areas alongside Al-Haouz and Ouarzazate.
According to Nasser Jabour, the chief of the National Institute of Geophysics, the 7-magnitude quake is the most powerful the country has ever experienced.
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The French Ambassador to Morocco noted that rural areas were the most affected by the earthquake and assessing the damage is likely to take days.
Christophe Lecourtier said: “The regions that seem most affected are mountainous regions south of Marrakesh where there are villages with populations living in houses that are less sturdy than in cities.
“This is where emergency services are working to determine the exact situation.”
The head of a town near the earthquake’s epicenter told Moroccan news site 2M that several homes in nearby towns had partly or totally collapsed, and electricity and roads are cut off in some places.
Abderrahim Ait Daoud, head of the town of Talat N’Yaaqoub, said authorities are working to clear roads in Al Haouz Province to allow passage for ambulances and aid to populations affected, but said large distances between mountain villages mean it will take time to learn the extent of the damage.
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