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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 February, 2004, 23:51 GMT
Quake flattens Moroccan villages
A woman walks past a collapsed building in Imzouren
Many houses were destroyed in Imzouren
At least 564 people have died after a powerful earthquake rocked north-east Morocco early on Tuesday.

The toll has risen as rescuers extended their search to reach the worst-hit areas in remote mountain villages, and another 250 people have been injured.

Television pictures showed people digging through rubble with pick-axes, while others dug with their bare hands.

People poured into the area's main city, the resort of Al Hoceima, where hospitals struggled to cope.

Women and children

The tremor struck at 0227 GMT, according to the US Geological Survey, which measured it as having a magnitude of 6.5. European agencies put it at 6.1 to 6.3.

"The streets were full of women and children. The ambulances were filled with the injured," one resident told BBC News Online by telephone.

In the village of Imzouren, 18 km (11 miles) south of Al Hoceima, 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."

Another village, Ait Kamara, whose mud-brick buildings were not designed to withstand earthquakes, was reported to have been completely destroyed.

Hossein Ben Ali, general manager of the Hotel General in Al Hoceima, told the BBC that the earthquake felt "twice as strong" as one that hit the region in 1994.

Imad Marzaq, a civil servant in the city, said glasses fell and broke and pictures fell off the wall.

"I panicked a bit, and I stayed in my bed. But the shaking didn't stop, so I went to shelter under a table in my room," he told BBC News Online.

Al Hoceima - a predominantly Berber city of about 100,000 - seems to have escaped major damage, but injured people are being ferried in by trucks and donkey carts from outlying areas.

"We have no idea how many dead there are," a spokeswoman at the city's main Mohammed V hospital told BBC News Online. "We are still receiving injured people and dead bodies."

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 saturated and that the agency was considering flying field hospitals to the area.

Mr Marzaq said wounded were being taken to Rabat because facilities in Al Hoceima were overwhelmed.

"Ambulances can't cope, people are ferrying the injured in their cars, in private ambulances, in 4x4s," he said.

Rescue

A Moroccan rescue operation - including army and paramilitary police personnel with helicopters - has been sent to help survivors and to search for victims, Reuters said.

Morocco's King Mohammed Vl has gone to the region.

France is reported to be preparing to send emergency teams if necessary.

The United Nations, Belgium, Spain and Germany have also offered assistance.

The quake was felt as far away as Andalucia and Murcia in 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 neighbouring 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:
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
Algeria quake toll rises
25 May 03  |  Africa
Country profile: Morocco
11 Sep 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Morocco
09 Nov 02  |  Country profiles


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