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Over 500 killed in Morocco quake

The quake shook the Strait of Gibraltar, just off the northern coast of Morocco.
The quake shook the Strait of Gibraltar, just off the northern coast of Morocco.

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Emergency workers search for survivors of Moroccan earthquake.
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(CNN) -- The shattering earthquake that struck northern Morocco early Tuesday has claimed 564 lives, the country's Interior Ministry said as hundreds of people prepared to spend the night outside for fear of aftershocks.

Another 300 people were reported injured, 80 of them seriously, the ministry said.

Many of the deaths were around the Mediterranean port city of Al Hoceima which has a population of several hundred thousand.

The city's mayor Mohammed Boudra said most of the dead were women and children, as most of the men of the area mainly work overseas.

Other deaths were reported in nearby, remote inland villages in Rif Mountains. Residents in rural areas such as Tazaghin, Tizi Ayash and Imzourn live mainly in mud huts that cannot withstand such a powerful earthquake. (Full story)

Ait Kamara, a village west of Al Hoceima, was "completely destroyed," a Western diplomat in Morocco, monitoring local news reports, told CNN.

The 6.5-magnitude quake, which struck at about 2:28 a.m. (0628 GMT), shook the Strait of Gibraltar, just off the northern coast of Morocco.

It was centered in an area 185 miles (295 km) east-northeast of Rabat.

"Everyone knows that downtown Al Hoceima is a seismic area so buildings there were built to withstand earthquakes, which is why there was not so much damage in Al Hoceima," a Moroccan official said. "The casualties are mainly in the rural areas."

CNN Correspondent Al Goodman said from Al Hoceima that hundreds of people were camped outside, not daring to return to their homes for fear of aftershocks.

Thirty people injured in the earthquake were hospitalized in Al Hoceima, with six people due to be airlifted to Rabat, the Moroccan capital, the official said.

About 100 other people have been checked by doctors and sent home because they had only slight injuries.

French rescue crews have been arriving at the airport to help the former French colony.

King Mohamed VI ordered all available resources mobilized to help with the rescue effort, including army forces, helicopters, police and firefighters.

"The area is very mountainous and very difficult to access," journalist Alauoi Hassan told CNN. "I guess everyone was asleep at the time, so the toll will be high."

A civil protection spokesman said 18 homes were destroyed in the village of Imzouren.

The remote villages affected are several hours drive by car from the nearest main town in normal times, but may be even more cut off due to earthquake damage.

The quake was also felt across northern Morocco, including in the Spanish territorial enclave of Melilla.

"Yes, we felt it. Everything moved, including the floor. And you heard the noise that is characteristic of an earthquake," said Juan Roman, a desk clerk at the Spanish state-run Parador de Melilla hotel.

Roman said some of the hotel's guests called to the front desk after the quake to ask what had happened, adding that no one had panicked.

He said there was no damage to the hotel. He said that Melilla -- a town of about 60,000 residents -- is about 93 miles (150 kilometers) from Al Hoceima.

However, the quake did not appear to be felt in Spain's other territorial enclave -- Ceuta -- also along the Moroccan coast, but some 310 miles (500 kilometers) west of Melilla.

A staffer at the SER radio outlet in Ceuta told CNN the quake was not felt there.

The last large earthquake to hit the area measured 6.0 and struck in 1994.

-- CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman contributed to this story

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