Hossein Ben Ali was sleeping when the earthquake struck.
Many people are still thought to be trapped under the rubble
Travelling from the epicentre 160km (100 miles) north of the coast of Morocco, the shockwaves hit resort town of Al Hoceima at 0227 (0227 GMT).
Mr Ben Ali woke up with the shaking.
He had been in Al Hoceima when an earthquake struck in 1994, but this one was different, he said.
"This one felt twice as strong," he told BBC News Online.
"It was very, very, very strong."
More than 200 people have been killed, and the number of dead is expected to rise.
Also in Al Hoceima, Imad Marzaq was "halfway between being awake and asleep" when the walls in his apartment started to shake.
Glasses fell and broke, and pictures crashed to the floor.
"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," the civil servant told BBC News Online.
Both men, unhurt, ran out onto the streets as soon as tremors stopped.
They found a town in shock.
The streets were full of women and children, and everyone was scared that the tremors would start up again, said Mr Marzaq.
He watched as one of his neighbours was pulled alive from the rubble.
"His house was destroyed, all this concrete fell on top of him. He was injured in the head, on the arms, badly," he said.
Soon ambulances rushed pass, ferrying the injured and dead to hospital.
Mr Marzaq said the 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.
"We were very, very scared," said Mr Ben Ali, who manages a hotel.
"The town hasn't slept."
There is particular concern for Ait Kamra and Imzouren, near Al Hoceima, thought to be among the worst hit.
Marzouk El Hani, director of a home for orphans in the centre of Imzouren, was also in bed with his wife when he was woken by the shaking.
"Some of our staff live in town, and they came to tell us about what they saw, but I couldn't have imagined the amplitude, and the emotions I felt when I saw it," he told BBC News Online.
"I started to cry."
"You could not imagine such a situation - buildings five or six floors high, with at least eight families in them, collapsed into rubble."
He said he saw locals helping the firemen and police digging through the rubble with their bare hands.
"I saw them pull dead people from the rubble. You don't get too close, but you see it.
"I wouldn't have been surprised if the death toll reached the hundreds. I think at least 30 buildings were completely destroyed.
Most of the concrete buildings in Imzouren were built in the 1970s, and they did not have good foundations, he added.