RABAT, (Reuters) – A four centuries-old mosque minaret collapsed in Morocco yesterday, killing at least 38 people and injuring more than 70 worshippers, hospital officials and witnesses said.
“The number of dead reached at least 38. I have this death toll from rescuers and doctors and officials at the hospital,” parliamentarian Abdallah Bouanou, who is also a doctor, told Reuters from the scene.
“I counted myself 13 dead. Their corpses were pulled out of the rubble by rescuers,” he added.
Local civil defence commander Alaoui Ismaili said the rescue operation was slow because of the narrow streets in the old city medina district where the collapsed mosque minaret is located. “We are using only manpower, not equipment as we cannot bring heavy equipment through these streets,” he said.
“We are moving with great cautiousness also because the walls of houses and shops adjacent to the mosque are fragile especially after the heavy rains of the past days,” said Ismaili.
The state news agency MAP, citing an official provisional toll, said 36 were killed and 71 more injured in the incident.
“About 300 worshippers gathered inside the mosque for the Friday afternoon mass prayers. When the imam (preacher) was about to start his sermon, the minaret went down,” Khaled Rahmouni, whose home is near the mosque, told Reuters by telephone.
The Lalla Khenata mosque minaret collapsed in the old Bab el Bardiyine neighbourhood of Meknes, which is about 140 km (80 miles) southwest of Rabat.
Neglected old buildings in the old quarters of Morocco’s cities collapse fairly often, but the fall of a minaret is rare.