Search teams were making their way up to remote mountain hamlets, while hospitals in the affected al-Hasima province struggled to keep up with a flood of casualties.

Morocco's dynastic ruler, King Muhammad VI, ordered the reinforcement of emergency operations, saying special efforts should go to housing and feeding survivors "in order to preserve the hygiene of the affected areas".

Aftershocks

A series of aftershocks have hampered relief efforts.

The tremors stirred panic in survivors with many preparing to spend a second night in the open, although Moroccan soldiers had put up around 100 tents for families to take refuge in by the time darkness fell.

In the devastated town of Imzuran and in neighbouring Ait Kamara, angry locals blamed the high toll on the shabby construction of 1980s concrete blocks, which crumbled in the earthquake alongside homes built of mud.

Aid

International aid meanwhile has begun to arrive in the Mediterranean port of al-Hasima, a city of 100,000 people miraculously spared from the disaster.

Aircraft from several countries including Algeria, France and Spain began arriving loaded with food, blankets and rescue equipment.

The United Nations headquarters in Geneva said it was sending a six-member disaster and coordination assessment team and was organising a shipment of relief supplies.

Moroccan radio said Japan was sending a 23-strong team of aid officials to the region, while the first relief flights from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies arrived in the country.

In Washington, the State Department announced that a first plane carrying blankets, tents, water purification equipment and other emergency material was on its way, while Paris rushed in teams of 15 sniffer dogs and their handlers.