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U.N. offers Morocco earthquake help

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan pledged the world body's assistance to the victims of the earthquake that hit Morocco Tuesday.

"The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the heavy loss of life and extensive damage caused by a powerful earthquake that struck near the city of Al Hoceima," said chief U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard. "The United Nations stands ready to render assistance."

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The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported a quake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale struck the Mediterranean Sea, just off the coast from the Moroccan port city of Al Hoceima, about 2.30 a.m. local time.

A situation report from OCHA said that while there were no reports of damage in Al Hoceima itself, several villages near its outskirts were badly hit. The death toll was forecast to rise into the hundreds. Most of the villagers in Ait Kamra, Tamassint and Imzourn lived in mud-brick structures.

OCHA said it was ready to activate international assistance as soon as the Moroccan government requested help.

However, U.N. Resident Coordinator Emmanuel Dierckx de Casterle in Rabat, reported to OCHA that Morocco was handling relief efforts and was unlikely to ask for international assistance.

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