Authorities declared three days of National mourningbut the Red Cross warned it would take years to repair the damage.
The 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Friday evening in a mountainous area 72 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of the tourist city of Marrakech, the region said. United States Geological Survey reported.
With strong tremors also felt in the coastal cities of Rabat, Casablanca and Essaouira, the earthquake caused widespread damage and sent terrified residents and tourists scrambling for safety in the middle of the night.
“I was almost asleep when I heard the doors and shutters slamming,” said Ghannou Najem, an octogenarian from Casablanca who was visiting Marrakech when the earthquake struck.
“I came out in a panic. I thought I was going to die alone.”
In the mountain village of Tafeghaghte, near the epicenter of the earthquake, almost no buildings remained standing. The traditional clay bricks used by the region’s Berber inhabitants were no match for this rare earthquake.
Late in the afternoon, soldiers continued to sift through the debris, but most survivors headed toward the cemetery where loud screams punctuated last rites as some 70 villagers were buried.
“Three of my grandchildren and their mother were killed. They are still under the rubble,” Omar Benhanna, 72, a villager, told AFP. “A while ago we were all playing together,” he added.
It was the most powerful earthquake ever to hit the North African kingdom, and one expert described it as “the region’s biggest earthquake in more than 120 years.”
“Where destructive earthquakes are rare, buildings are simply not robust enough… and many collapse, causing many casualties,” said Bill McGuire, professor emeritus at University College London in Britain.
The latest update from the Interior Ministry on Saturday evening showed that the earthquake had killed at least 2,012 people, the vast majority in Al-Haouz, the epicenter, and the Taroudant provinces.
Another 2,059 people were injured, including 1,404 in critical condition, the ministry said.
Civil defense Colonel Hicham Choukri, who is leading rescue operations, told state television earlier that the epicenter and force of the quake had created “an exceptional emergency situation”.
After a meeting chaired by King Mohammed VI, the palace announced three days of national mourning, with flags at half-mast on all public buildings.
Faisal Badour, an engineer, said he felt the earthquake three times in his building in Marrakech.
“There are families who are still sleeping outside because we were very afraid of the force of this earthquake,” he said. “The screaming and crying were unbearable.”
Frenchman Michael Bizet, 43, owner of three traditional riads in Marrakech’s old town, told AFP he was in bed when the earthquake struck.
“I thought my bed was going to fly away. I went out into the street half naked and immediately went to see my riads. It was total chaos, a real catastrophe, madness,” he said .
Images posted on social media showed part of a collapsed minaret in Jemaa el-Fnaa square in the historic city.
An AFP correspondent saw hundreds of people flocking to the square to spend the night for fear of aftershocks, some with blankets while others slept on the ground.
Houda Outassaf, a local resident, said she was “still in shock” after feeling the earth shaking beneath her feet and losing loved ones.
“I have at least 10 members of my family who have died…I can’t believe it, because I was with them just two days ago,” she said.
The regional blood transfusion center in Marrakech called on residents to donate blood for the injured.
The Royal Moroccan Football Federation announced that the African Cup of Nations qualifying match against Liberia, scheduled to be played in the coastal city of Agadir on Saturday, had been postponed indefinitely.
“We heard screams during the earthquake,” a resident of Essaouira, 200 kilometers west of Marrakech, told AFP. “Pieces of facades fell.”
The Red Cross said it was mobilizing resources to support the Moroccan Red Crescent, but its activities in the Middle East and North Africa The director, Hossam Elsharkawi, warned: “We are looking at several months, if not several years of response. »
Foreign leaders expressed their condolences and many offered help, including Israel with whom Morocco normalized relations in 2020.
Neighboring and regional rival Algeria announced it was suspending a two-year-old ban on all Moroccan flights crossing its airspace to allow aid deliveries and medical evacuations.
US President Joe Biden said he was “deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation”.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping expressed “deep sadness for the victims” and expressed hope that “the Moroccan government and people will be able to overcome the impact of this disaster.”
In 2004, at least 628 people were killed and 926 injured in an earthquake that struck Al Hoceima, in northeastern Morocco, and in 1960, a 6.7 magnitude earthquake in Agadir killed more than 12 000 people.
The 7.3 magnitude El Asnam earthquake in Algeria killed 2,500 people and left at least 300,000 homeless in 1980.