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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 February, 2004, 16:03 GMT
Quake rescuers hunt for survivors
morocco quake rescuers
The rescue operation continues
Rescuers are spending a second day searching for survivors of a powerful earthquake in north-eastern Morocco.

They have been digging with pick-axes and bare hands through rubble in remote villages served only by poor roads.

Moroccan Health Minister Mohamed Cheikh Biadillah said at least 564 people were killed when the quake struck rural areas around the Mediterranean city of Al Hoceima early on Tuesday morning.

The city airport has become a temporary morgue as many bodies await burial.

Thousands of survivors spent the night in the open, fearing more tremors.

A big rescue operation involving the army and the Red Crescent is under way, but they have had difficulty reaching the mountain villages.

Former colonial power France is flying out rescue workers with sniffer dogs and lifting equipment, and the United Nations and the international Red Cross have teams on standby.

The US, Belgium, Germany, Portugal and Spain have all offered assistance.

Neighbouring Algeria, which suffered a devastating earthquake last year, has also said it will provide aid.


The US Geological Survey measured the quake as having a magnitude of 6.5. European agencies put it at 6.1 to 6.3.

In one village, Ait Kamara, 18km (11 miles) south of Al Hoceima, many houses were completely flattened.

"I woke up to a big bang, I don't even remember how I managed to escape from the house," said one resident, Abdelkhalek.

His parents, three brothers and one sister were all killed in the quake.

"My sister was shouting, begging me to lift a big, heavy door under which she was trapped. We could not, she died," he told Reuters news agency.

Hospitals overwhelmed

In the nearby village of Imzouren, the streets were littered with debris.

"Many people are still trapped under the rubble. We have no equipment," Hassam Hmidouch, head of the town council, told Reuters television.

"It's a total disaster. The world needs to help us."

Al Hoceima - a predominantly Berber city of about 70,000 - escaped major damage, but the authorities struggled to cope with the dead and injured arriving from outlying areas.

Ambulances can't cope - people are ferrying the injured in their cars, in private ambulances, in 4x4s
Imad Marzaq,
Al Hoceima resident

Josephine Fields, a Red Cross/Red Crescent official in Tunis, said the aid agency had sent 200 relief personnel to the region.

She told the BBC's Newshour programme that local medical facilities were overwhelmed and that the agency was considering flying field hospitals to the area.

The quake was felt as far away as southern Spain, though no injuries or damage were reported there.

Al Hoceima was near the epicentre of Morocco's last big earthquake, in 1990, which measured 6.0 on the Richter scale.

Tuesday's tremor comes nine months after a huge earthquake killed more than 2,000 people in Algeria.

Morocco's most deadly earthquake killed about 12,000 people in 1960.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Pascale Harter
"Despite the darkness and the rain, the search for bodies will go on"



SEE ALSO:
Moroccan quake search continues
25 Feb 04  |  Africa
In pictures: Morocco earthquake
24 Feb 04  |  Photo Gallery
Quake survivors speak of panic
24 Feb 04  |  Africa
Deadly history of earthquakes
08 Jan 04  |  In Depth
Country profile: Morocco
11 Sep 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Morocco
09 Nov 02  |  Country profiles


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