Responding to reports of an earthquake that has killed scores of people in northern Morocco today, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan pledged the world body's assistance to the victims of the tragedy.
"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," UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters in New York.
The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said 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 today.
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 is forecast to rise into the hundreds. Most of the inhabitants of the villages of Ait Kamra, Tamassint and Imzourn live in mud-brick structures.
Conveying Mr. Annan's deepest sympathy to the Moroccan Government and the families of the quake victims, Mr. Eckhard said "the UN stands ready to render assistance."
OCHA said it was ready to activate international assistance as soon as the Moroccan Government requested help. The UN's Resident Coordinator in Morocco, Emmanuel Dierckx de Casterle, told OCHA that Morocco was handling relief efforts and was unlikely to ask for international assistance.