CASABLANCA - Nearly 300 people were killed after a powerful earthquake rattled Morocco Friday night, according to a preliminary government count, with Marrakesh residents reporting "unbearable" screams followed the 6.8-magnitude quake.
"According to a provisional report, the earthquake killed 296 people in the provinces and municipalities of Al-Haouz, Marrakesh, Ouarzazate, Azilal, Chichaoua and Taroudant," Morocco's interior ministry said in a statement.
Another 153 people were injured, it added.
"We felt a very violent tremor, and I realised it was an earthquake," Abdelhak El Amrani, a 33-year-old in Marrakesh, told AFP by telephone.
"I could see buildings moving. We don't necessarily have the reflexes for this type of situation. Then I went outside and there were a lot of people there. People were all in shock and panic. The children were crying and the parents were distraught."
"The power went out for 10 minutes, and so did the (telephone) network, but then it came back on. Everyone decided to stay outside," he added.
Frenchman Michael Bizet, 43, who owns three traditional riad houses in Marrakech's old town, told AFP that he had been in bed at the time of the quake.
"I thought my bed was going to fly away. I went out into the street half-naked and immediately went to see my riads. It was total chaos, a real catastrophe, madness," he said.
Video circulating on social media showed part of a minaret collapsed on the famous Jemaa el-Fna square in the historic city, injuring two people.
Fayssal Badour, another Marrakesh resident, told AFP he was driving when the earthquake hit.
"I stopped and realised what a disaster it was. It was very serious, as if a river had burst its banks. The screaming and crying was unbearable," he said.
The interior ministry said authorities have "mobilised all the necessary resources to intervene and help the affected areas".
Hospitals in Marrakesh reportedly saw a "massive influx" of injured people.
The regional blood transfusion centre in Marrakesh has called on residents to donate blood for those injured.
In the town of Al-Haouz, near the epicentre of the quake, a family was trapped in the rubble after their house collapsed, local media reported.
- Significant damage likely -
The quake struck 44 miles (71 kilometres) southwest of tourist hotspot Marrakesh at a depth of 18.5 kilometres at 11:11 pm (2211 GMT), the US Geological Survey said.
It was also felt in the coastal cities of Rabat, Casablanca and Essaouira.
"We heard screams at the time of the tremor," a resident of Essaouira, 200 kilometres west of Marrakesh, told AFP.
"People are in the squares, in the cafes, preferring to sleep outside. Pieces of facades have fallen."
USGS's PAGER system, which provides preliminary assessments on the impact of earthquakes, issued an orange alert for economic losses, estimating significant damage is likely.
Past events with this alert level have required a regional or national-level response, according to the US government agency.
USGS said that "the population in this region lives in structures that are highly vulnerable to earthquake shaking".
Internet connectivity was disrupted in Marrakesh due to power cuts, according to global internet monitor NetBlocks.
Moroccan media reported it was the most powerful earthquake to hit the country to date.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was "pained" by news of the quake.
The earthquake was also felt in neighbouring Algeria, where the Algerian Civil Defence said it had not caused any damage or casualties.
In 2004, at least 628 people were killed and 926 injured when a quake hit Al Hoceima in northeastern Morocco.
The 1980, the 7.3-magnitude El Asnam earthquake in neighbouring Algeria was one of the largest and most destructive earthquakes in recent history.
It killed 2,500 people and left at least 300,000 homeless.