Marrakech CNN —
Terrified Moroccans spent a second night in the streets after a powerful earthquake killed more than 2,000 people, as rescuers race against time to reach trapped victims in remote mountain villages near the epicenter hit hardest by the devastating tremor.
The 6.8-magnitude quake, which struck late on Friday, was Morocco’s deadliest in six decades. It was also the strongest to hit the region around the ancient city of Marrakech in a century, according to the US Geological Survey.
So far 2,012 people have been listed killed and 1,404 others critically injured, according to Moroccan authorities, but the toll is expected to rise further as rescuers dig through the rubble of collapsed houses in remote areas of the High Atlas mountains.
In historic Marrakech, the largest city near the center of the quake and a major tourist draw, many families spent Saturday night staying out in the open, as authorities warned residents to pay close attention to follow-up tremors.
People stayed away from the damaged buildings in the city’s tightly-packed medieval-era center as well as the surrounding red earth walls, where parts have crumbled.
In the Oliveraie Park in central Marrakech, hundreds of people, including children and the elderly, slept on blankets and makeshift mattresses. Families huddled together, trying to get some rest after the shock and panic from the night before.
Some brought bags of clothes and food, preparing for a possible longer stay away from their homes.
Flags around the city are flying at half-mast to mark three days of national mourning announced by the monarchy.
In Marrakech’s airport, dozens of tourists slept on the floor in the main terminal, waiting to catch a flight out. Flights in and out of the tourism hub have been operating mostly as normal.
Scenes of destruction and despair have played out in villages dotting the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, where the quake was centered.
These remote areas had the highest number of fatalities, with homes made from mud bricks crumbling onto residents and boulders blocking road for rescue teams to arrive.
Fatima, 50, told CNN her house in the mountain village of Asni had been destroyed.
“I barely got the chance to grab the kids and run out before I saw my house collapsing in front of my eyes. The neighbor’s house has also collapsed and there are two dead people under the rubble,” she said.
Mohammed, 50, from the nearby town of Ouirgane, lost four family members in the quake.
“I managed to get out safely with my two children but lost the rest. My house is gone,” he said.
Rescue operations there are ongoing.
“We are out in the streets with authorities as they try to pull the dead from the rubble. Many many people were transported to hospital in front of me. We are hoping for miracles from the rubble,” he said.
Rescuers are racing against time. The first 72 hours after a natural disaster are considered the “golden period” for finding survivors, as the condition of people trapped and injured can deteriorate quickly afterward.
Not since 2004 has the country seen a comparable disaster, when a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck the port city of Al Hoceima, claiming around 630 lives.
Morocco’s worst earthquake of modern times was in 1960 near the western city of Agadir which killed at least 12,000 people.