More than 2000 people dead as Morocco quake toll rises


Rescuers are searching for survivors of Morocco's deadliest earthquake in more than six decades, with more than 2000 people killed by the disaster that has laid waste to villages in the mountains near Marrakech.

Many people spent a second night in the open after the 6.8 magnitude quake hit late on Friday.

Relief workers face the challenge of reaching the most badly affected villages in the High Atlas, a rugged mountain range where settlements are often remote and where many houses crumbled.

Large chunks of a cliff had broken off and fallen onto the road near Moulay Brahim, a village some 40km south of Marrakech, partly blocking a winding road connecting the city to the Atlas Mountains.

"There are a lot of people still under the rubble," Adeeni Mustafa, a resident from the Asni area, told Reuters on Sunday as he stood by a road partially blocked by boulders.

"People are still searching for their parents.

"There are a lot of roads that are closed."

In Moulay Brahim, makeshift tents had been erected on a dirt soccer field.

Residents were wrapped in blankets after spending the night outside.

The latest Interior Ministry figures put the death toll at 2012, with 2059 people injured, including 1404 in critical condition.

Morocco has declared three days of mourning and King Mohammed VI called for prayers for the dead to be held at mosques across the country on Sunday.

The World Health Organisation said more than 300,000 people have been affected by the disaster.

"The next 24 to 48 hours will be critical in terms of saving lives," Caroline Holt, global director of operations for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a statement.

The village of Tansghart in the Ansi area, on the side of a valley where the road from Marrakech rises up into the High Atlas, was the worst hit of several visited by Reuters journalists on Saturday.

Its picturesque houses, clinging to a steep hillside, were cracked open by the shaking ground.

Those still standing were missing chunks of wall or plaster.

Two mosque minarets had fallen.

Abdellatif Ait Bella, a labourer, lay on the ground, barely able to move or speak, his head bandaged from wounds caused by falling debris.

"We have no house to take him to and have had no food since yesterday," said his wife Saida Bodchich, fearing for the future of their family of six with their sole breadwinner so badly hurt.

"We can rely on nobody but God."

The village is already mourning 10 deaths including two teenage girls, a resident said.

There were hopes more survivors could be found.

Footage captured on Saturday in Moulay Brahim, showed rescuers pulling someone from the rubble.

Two rescuers hugged each other as the person was carried away on a stretcher.

The quake's epicentre was some 72km southwest of Marrakech, a city beloved of Moroccans and foreign tourists for its medieval mosques, palaces and seminaries richly adorned with vivid mosaic tiling amid a labyrinth of rose-hued alleyways.

Marrakech's old quarter suffered extensive damage.

Families huddled on the streets, fearing their homes were no longer safe to return to.

"I cannot sleep there," said Mouhamad Ayat Elhaj, 51, on the streets with his family near the old city.

"I am asking the authorities to help me and bring in an expert to assess whether it is possible for me to return to the house or not.

"If there is a risk, I will not return to the house."

It was Morocco's deadliest earthquake since 1960 when a quake was estimated to have killed at least 12,000 people, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Turkey, where powerful earthquakes in February killed more than 50,000 people, was among nations expressing solidarity and offering to provide support.

Marrakech is due to host the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank from October 9.