Many in Marrakech sleep outdoors for second night after Morocco quake

By Jihed Abidellaoui and Alexander Cornwell

MARRAKECH (Reuters) - Families in Marrakech huddled into the early hours of Sunday, spending a second night on the streets as Morocco's deadliest earthquake in more than half a century left many fearing their homes were no longer safe to return to.

Uncertainty gripped many in Marrakech, some 70 km (45 miles) northeast of the epicentre, as they worried the quake that has killed more than 2,000 may have damaged their homes or that an aftershock could destroy them in the coming hours or days.

Since Friday's quake, the north African country's worst since 1960, Mouhamad Ayat Elhaj, 51, has slept on the streets with his family nearby the city's historic medina after finding signs of damage to his home, including cracks in the walls.

"I cannot sleep there. I am asking the authorities to help me and bring in an expert to assess whether it is possible for me to return to the house or not. If there is a risk, I will not return to the house," he told Reuters.

Across parts of Morocco, people spent the night outdoors on Friday after the earthquake hit the country. By Saturday, the number of people killed had risen to 2,012 and another 2,059 were injured, according to the Ministry of Interior.

Parts of Marrakech’s historical medina, a popular tourist attraction for Moroccans and foreigners, were damaged in the earthquake. On Saturday, Moroccans and foreigners were walking through the ancient city taking photos of the damage and eating at popular restaurants while others gathered to sleep in the main square.

Noureddine Lahbabi, a retired 68-year-old with four children, said as he too prepared to sleep outside for a second night that the damage caused to people’s homes was distressing.

"It’s a painful experience. When this happens to your brother or sister, it’s really painful,” he said.

Mohamed Aithadi, a Moroccan-American, was surveying the damage to a mosque in the medina on Saturday near where his mother is living. He said he had been in the medina’s main square when the earthquake struck and on Saturday urged Moroccans to take care of those most vulnerable.

"I am very sure that our people, our Moroccan people and our Moroccan community can get together and go through this safely and peacefully,” he said.

Away from the medina, families were sleeping in open spaces and along roads. Eleven-year-old Jowra, speaking alongside her father, said she felt uneasy having to sleep near strangers.

(Reporting by Jihed Abidellaoui Alexander Cornwell; Editing by William Mallard)