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More than 1,000 killed, 1,200 injured in powerful Morocco earthquake

A person walks over debris next to a damaged building following an earthquake in Marrakech, Morocco, on Saturday. A powerful earthquake that hit central Morocco late Friday killed at least 820 people and injured 672 others, officials said. Photo by Jalal Morchidi/EPA-EFE
A person walks over debris next to a damaged building following an earthquake in Marrakech, Morocco, on Saturday. A powerful earthquake that hit central Morocco late Friday killed at least 820 people and injured 672 others, officials said. Photo by Jalal Morchidi/EPA-EFE

Sept. 9 (UPI) -- More than 1,000 people were killed and 1,200 were injured in a powerful earthquake that struck Morocco late Friday night, according to the country's interior ministry.

Updated figures released by Moroccan officials Saturday evening indicated the death toll from disaster has risen to 1,037, while 1,204 people were wounded, including 721 listed In critical condition.

Most of the deaths resulting from the 6.8 magnitude quake, whose epicenter was near Imintanoute in the High Atlas Mountains around 60 miles southwest of Marrakech, happened in the mountainous Al Haouz and Taroudant provinces.

The quake struck at 11:11 p.m. Friday local time at a depth of 11.5 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. A tsunami warning was in effect for Morocco's coastal areas.

Earthquakes of this size in this region of Morocco are "uncommon but not unexpected," the USGS said, noting that since 1900 there have been nine magnitude 5 and larger earthquakes there -- but none of them were over magnitude 6.

A person with a child walk next to a damaged building following an earthquake in Marrakech, Morocco, on Saturday. A powerful earthquake that hit central Morocco late Friday, killing at least 820 people and injured 672 others, according to officials. Photo by Jalal Morchidi/EPA-EFE
A person with a child walk next to a damaged building following an earthquake in Marrakech, Morocco, on Saturday. A powerful earthquake that hit central Morocco late Friday, killing at least 820 people and injured 672 others, according to officials. Photo by Jalal Morchidi/EPA-EFE

Residents across the country felt the quake, which triggered widespread panic in Morocco's cities, including the capital of Rabat, where residents rushed out of their homes and into the streets, local media reported.

Videos posted online showed collapsed buildings in Marrakech, where initial reports indicated the damage was greatest.

People seek safety outside after an earthquake in Rabat, Morocco, on Friday. A 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck Morocco late Friday, damaging buildings in major cities and sending panicked people pouring into streets and alleys. Photo by Jalal Morchidi/EPA-EFE
People seek safety outside after an earthquake in Rabat, Morocco, on Friday. A 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck Morocco late Friday, damaging buildings in major cities and sending panicked people pouring into streets and alleys. Photo by Jalal Morchidi/EPA-EFE

King Mohammed VI announced the deployment of the country's armed forces to the Al Haouz region to provide "important human and logistical means, air and land," as well as specialized intervention units comprised of search and rescue teams and a medical-surgical field hospital.

Aircraft, helicopters, drones, engineering teams and logistical centers were also deployed to the area by the Moroccan government.

A 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck a mountainous region of Morocco at 11:11 p.m. Friday local time. Officials say more than 800 were killed in the powerful temblor, officials said. Image courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
A 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck a mountainous region of Morocco at 11:11 p.m. Friday local time. Officials say more than 800 were killed in the powerful temblor, officials said. Image courtesy U.S. Geological Survey

U.S. President Joe Biden issued a statement of condolences to the country.

"I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation caused by the earthquake in Morocco," he said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted by this terrible hardship. My administration is in contact with Moroccan officials. We are working expeditiously to ensure American citizens in Morocco are safe, and stand ready to provide any necessary assistance for the Moroccan people.

"The United States stands by Morocco and my friend King Mohammed VI at this difficult moment."

European leaders such as Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin, also offered condolences.

Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims.

The Pontiff assured Moroccans in a telegram sent Saturday that he is in "deep solidarity" with country and is praying for those who have died, "healing for those who were wounded, and consolation for those who mourn the loss of their loved ones and homes," the official Vatican news service reported.

The Royal Moroccan Football Federation announced the postponement of a soccer match between the national team and Liberia in the final round of qualifiers for the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations scheduled for Saturday.

Officials of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent warned that it will take time and a massive effort to provide aid to the victims of the disaster.

"This humanitarian response is not a sprint. It is a marathon," the organization said in a social media post.

"Efforts will be complicated but these are the initial hours. This happened at night time when people were maybe sleeping in bed so only this morning did we start to see the impact of the earthquake unfold," Caroline Holt of the IFRC told Al Jazeera.

"Right now and the next 48-72 hours will be critical in terms of life-saving search and rescue efforts in parallel with making sure that those that did survive are taken care of."