41 dead in minaret collapse

MEKNES: The collapse of a historic minaret in the central Moroccan city of Meknes has killed at least 41 people, injuring 76 others, an official said today, updating the casualty toll.

Rescuers were searching the rubble for other possible victims after the minaret of the Bab Berdieyinne mosque in Meknes’ old quarter came crashing down on worshippers gathered for Friday prayers, the official said.

The 18-century mosque was packed at the time of the accident and officials have warned the toll could

continue to mount. Many locals blamed the disaster on heavy rains that have lashed the north African country in recent days.

Television pictures showed hundreds of residents scrambling to clear the debris in a desperate search for survivors. Rescuers initially struggled to sift through debris because the mosque was located in the crammed and bustling Old City and surrounded by high walls ringing the historic neighbourhood. Once there they worked with shovels — and some with bare hands — while others formed human chains to carry away rubble from the disaster site. “The minaret and part of the roof fell on the congregation,” one local said. “Apart from the Friday prayers, the faithful were also offering funeral prayers for a deceased person whose body was inside the mosque,” a local official said. The interior ministry gave an initial toll of 11 dead following the accident at around 1245 GMT, but the toll rose later.