- A strong earthquake off the northern Moroccan coastal town Al Hoceima today killed at least 300 people. Poor constructions, mostly of mud and bricks, had no chance to withstand the earthquake's powers. Several villages may be totally destroyed.
Al Hoceima, a tourism resort at Morocco's northern, Mediterranean coast, was closest to the earthquake, which had its epicentre in the sea.
The quake however is believed to have stricken hardest in the isolated mountain mud-brick villages to the south of Al Hoceima, where traditional housing is lightly constructed and cannot withstand earthquakes. Here, the dimension of the disaster is still mostly unknown.
Rescue work quickly got started in Al Hoceima, and ambulance personnel has been able to rescue several persons from the town's collapsed buildings. Several deaths have however also been found. The town council believes there still are many people trapped under the rubble. Most of the victims were said to be woman, children and the elderly.
Outside Al Hoceima, rescue work is still in its beginning. The Red Cross/Red Crescent said up to 500,000 people in six outlying villages may have been affected by the earthquake. The humanitarian organisation has already announced plans to send 200 aid workers to the affected region. Several European governments have also promised a quick emergency assistance.
According to the Moroccan government's press agency, Maghreb Arabe Presse (MAP), King Mohammed VI earlier today gave instructions to "mobilise considerable human and material means to help the populations and rescue survivors."
The Moroccan armed forces, gendarmerie, navy, civil rescue, auxiliary forces are working on site, MAP reports. Helicopters and other equipment were dispatched to the region to bring assistance to the quake-stricken populations.
Morocco is located in an area that is stricken by earthquakes quite frequently. The country's last big earthquake, in 1990, also had its epicentre close to Al Hoceima. The most deadly earthquake in Morocco's history occurred in Agadir in 1960. It killed an estimated 14,000 people and wiped out the entire city, which later was rebuilt further to the south.
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