BREAKING: Morocco earthquake toll passes 2,000

The magnitude 6.8 earthquake hit the remote High Atlas mountain region, killing at least 2,012 people and leaving many homeless.

Rescuers searching for survivors dug through the rubble of collapsed houses in remote mountain villages of Morocco on Saturday, as armed forces were pressed into action in the wake of the country’s deadliest earthquake in more than 60 years.

Authorities declared three days of national mourning after the magnitude 6.8 earthquake killed more than 2,012 people and injured 2,059, with many left homeless.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI ordered the armed forces to mobilise specialised search and rescue teams and a surgical field hospital, according to a statement from the military.

The quake that struck in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains late on Friday night damaged historic buildings in Marrakesh – the nearest city to the epicentre – while most of the fatalities were reported in mountainous areas to the south in the Al-Haouz and Taroudant provinces.

In the mountain village of Tafeghaghte near the quake’s epicentre, virtually no buildings were left standing. The traditional clay bricks used by the region’s Berber inhabitants proved no match for the rare quake.

“Three of my grandchildren and their mother were killed – they are still under the rubble,” villager Omar Benhanna, 72, told AFP. “Just a while ago, we were all playing together.”

The epicentre of the earthquake was at a depth of 18.5km (11.5 miles) and occurred about 72km (44 miles) northeast of Marrakesh, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said.

Lahcen Haddad, a Moroccan senator and former minister, says the authorities are responding quickly despite the many challenges, including difficult terrain.

“Moroccan authorities are … getting people to hospitals in Marrakesh. There has been a call to give blood. After the Al Hoceima earthquake in 2004, [authorities] put together a mega plan for a rapid intervention,” he told Al Jazeera.

In historic Marrakesh, people could be seen on state TV clustering in the streets, afraid to go back inside buildings that might still be unstable.

The city’s famous Koutoubia Mosque, built in the 12th century, was damaged but the extent was not immediately clear. Its 69-metre (226-foot) minaret is known as the “roof of Marrakesh”. Moroccans also posted videos showing damage to parts of the famous red walls that surround the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Royal Moroccan Football Federation announced that a Cup of African Nations qualifier against Liberia, due to have been played on Saturday in the coastal city of Agadir, had been postponed indefinitely.

The Red Cross said it was mobilising resources to support the Moroccan Red Crescent but its Middle East and North Africa director, Hossam Elsharkawi, warned: “We are looking at many months if not years of response.”

The Moroccan armed forces will deploy rescue teams to provide affected areas with clean drinking water, food supplies, tents and blankets, authorities said.

Journalist Younis Ezzouhir told Al Jazeera from Marrakesh that efforts are continuing to clear roads to get to more survivors in affected areas in al-Haouz province, especially the small town of Talat N’Yaaqoub and rural commune there.

“This road faced landslides. It is a mountain road but the nature of the road is that the ground is mud soil, so it is fragile, and with rainfall or earthquakes there can be major amount of dirt and stones falling from the mountains,” Ezzouhir said.

Tremors were felt as far away as Huelva and Jaen in southern Spain. The World Health Organization said more than 300,000 people were affected in Marrakesh and surrounding areas.

✍️ AlJazeera