NORTH AFRICA In Morocco, rescuers continue to search for quake survivors
One official said she heard reports that a village of 6,000 was destroyed.
AL HOCEIMA, Morocco (AP) -- Rescuers using pickaxes and bare hands chipped through the rubble of flattened mud-and-stone houses after a strong earthquake that killed more than 560 people in northern Morocco.
Survivors, meanwhile, used tarps to make tents and shelter themselves in blustery, wet conditions. Some people slept outside in plastic chairs, bundled in blankets. Many were afraid to sleep indoors for fear of aftershocks.
The quake shook areas near the coastal city of Al Hoceima, an isolated but picturesque area between the Rif Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. The town was largely spared, but surrounding villages were devastated by the 6.5-magnitude quake that struck at about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, while most residents were asleep.
Selaam Bennaissa, a farmer who lives in the village of Ait Daoud, 10 miles from Al Hoceima, said he was home when the quake hit and barely escaped before his house came crashing down.
"Fortunately it didn't fall on me," he said by telephone. He estimated about 90 percent of the houses in his village had collapsed.
The official MAP news agency reported that 564 people were killed and some 300 were injured. The toll increased as rescuers made their way to hard-to-reach rural areas, many served by narrow, rough roads, and found more bodies, officials said.
Early today, it was unclear whether rescuers had reached all the rural areas that were hit.
Rescue teams focused on taking the wounded to hospitals and handling bodies. Others, aided by police and military, used sniffer dogs, pickaxes and their bare hands to search for trapped victims, while helicopters delivered emergency supplies.
King Mohammed VI planned to travel to the quake zone early today. France, Morocco's former colonial ruler, said it was sending a plane with about 15 rescuers and their search dogs.
The region's hospitals were overwhelmed, said Abdelbaki Ouazzani, president of Moroccan Red Crescent for the Al Hoceima region.
"The scene was horrible," he said. "All the families and children were crying in the hospitals."
The Rif mountain region, which is home to many of Morocco's Berber minority, is among the most isolated and underdeveloped areas of the Mediterranean basin. The Al Hoceima region's economy is underpinned by cash sent home from men who moved to Europe to find work. Cannabis fields are another source of money.
The Rif area was deeply mistrusted by the late King Hassan II, who quashed a rebellion of Berber tribes here in 1958 while he was still crown prince. His son Mohammed has taken steps to integrate the north more fully into this Muslim kingdom, financing some infrastructure projects in the region once neglected by his father.
Berbers, who have their own language, are considered the original inhabitants of North Africa.
Authorities scrambled to reach about a half-dozen remote villages -- including Ait Kamara, Tamassint and Imzourn, where 36,000 people live in mud and stone structures unable to withstand a powerful quake.
Josephine Shields of the International Federation of the Red Cross, citing civil defense officials in Al Hoceima, said she heard reports that Ait Kamara -- a village of 6,000 -- was completely destroyed.
Several small aftershocks followed the quake. One aftershock with a magnitude of 4.1 was felt outside Al Hoceima at 11:04 a.m., according to MAP. It quoted the geophysical laboratory of the National Scientific and Technical Research Center.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the 6.5-magnitude quake was centered 100 miles northeast of Fez in the Mediterranean Sea. It occurred about a mile underground.
The quake -- which reverberated across the Strait of Gibraltar -- was felt across much of southern Spain, but no damage or injuries were reported there.
Morocco's deadliest earthquake was in 1960, when 12,000 people were killed after a devastating quake destroyed the southern city of Agadir.