Morocco Earthquake: At Least 296 Dead, Military Says

This is a developing story.

A powerful earthquake that struck about 50 miles from the Moroccan city of Marrakesh late Friday killed at least 296 people, the authorities said hours later, as a frantic rescue effort took shape before dawn over mountainous terrain.

Morocco’s Interior Ministry said early Saturday that at least 296 people had died after the quake in the High Atlas Mountains. It said at least 153 others had been transported to hospitals with injuries.

The quake had a magnitude of 6.8 and a depth of about 11 miles, the United States Geological Survey said in a preliminary report. The local news media posted photos of rubble-strewn streets and footage of people panicking as the shaking began.

Marrakesh is known for its old city, a Unesco World Heritage Site that was founded in the 11th century and which attracts tourists with its open-air markets, uneven cobblestone streets and spiderweb-like passageways. A witness told the Reuters news agency early Saturday that some houses in the old city had collapsed, and that people there were removing debris by hand as they waited for more help.

2M, a Moroccan news outlet, showed footage of emergency vehicles crawling along dirt roads in the predawn darkness with their lights flashing red and yellow. But as of about 5 a.m. local time, the full extent of the casualties and damages was not clear.

The epicenter of the earthquake was just over 30 miles west of Oukaimeden, a popular Moroccan ski resort, the U.S.G.S. said. Oukaimeden is near Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa, and about 50 miles southeast of Marrakesh, a city of more than 800,000 people.

Agadir, another city in the area, has a population of nearly 700,000.

The U.S.G.S. said earthquakes this large in the area were “uncommon but not unexpected,” and that there had been no earthquakes of 6 magnitude or larger there since 1900.

Based on the area’s overall population and the types of buildings there, the U.S.G.S. said, there was a 23 percent chance that the total number of shaking-related fatalities from the earthquake would be between 100 and 1,000. But only about 172,000 people live in the area around the epicenter, it said.

The predominant type of vulnerable buildings in the region are made from adobe blocks and unreinforced bricks, the agency said.

John Yoon and Aida Alami contributed reporting.