In the aftermath of Morocco’s deadliest earthquake in over six decades, survivors found themselves huddled in the open on the High Atlas Mountains. The catastrophe struck just a day earlier, claiming the lives of more than 2,000 people and leaving villages in ruins.
Neighbours in the affected areas tirelessly searched for survivors buried under the debris. Houses made of mud brick, stone, and rough wood were shattered, and mosque minarets crumbled due to the late Friday-night earthquake. Even the historic old city of Marrakech was not spared, suffering extensive damage.
The Interior Ministry reported a grim tally of 2,012 casualties, with 2,059 injured, including 1,404 in critical condition. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the earthquake measured a magnitude of 6.8 and had its epicenter approximately 72 km (45 miles) southwest of Marrakech.
In the village of Amizmiz, near the epicenter, rescue workers valiantly combed through the rubble with their bare hands. Narrow streets were obstructed by fallen masonry, and outside a hospital, around 10 bodies were shrouded in blankets while grieving relatives stood nearby.
Mohamed Azaw, a resident of Amizmiz, shared his heartbreaking account, saying, “When I felt the earth shaking beneath my feet and the house leaning, I rushed to get my kids out. But my neighbors couldn’t.” He sadly added, “Unfortunately, no one was found alive in that family. The father and son were found dead, and they are still looking for the mother and the daughter.”
Rescuers bravely stood atop the collapsed floors of buildings in Amizmiz, with fragments of carpet and furniture protruding from the debris. A lengthy queue formed outside the only open shop as people sought supplies. Adding to the difficulties faced by rescuers, fallen boulders blocked the road connecting Amizmiz to a nearby village.
Nearly all the houses in the Asni area, located about 40 km south of Marrakech, sustained damage, forcing villagers to prepare for a night outdoors. Villager Mohamed Ouhammo lamented the shortage of food due to collapsed kitchens.
Montasir Itri, another resident of Asni, emphasized the ongoing search for survivors, stating, “Our neighbors are under the rubble, and people are working hard to rescue them using available means in the village.”
The village of Tansghart, in the Ansi area, was the hardest-hit among those documented by Reuters. Houses that once adorned a steep hillside were torn open by the violent tremors, with many missing sections of wall or plaster. Two mosque minarets had also succumbed to the earthquake.
Abdellatif Ait Bella, a laborer, lay immobilized, his head bandaged from injuries sustained in the calamity. His wife, Saida Bodchich, expressed her desperation: “We have no house to take him to and have had no food since yesterday. We can rely on nobody but God.” The village mourned ten deaths, including two teenage girls.
The earthquake’s impact extended far beyond Morocco’s borders, with tremors felt as far away as Huelva and Jaen in southern Spain. The World Health Organization reported that over 300,000 people were affected in Marrakech and its surrounding areas.
Street camera footage captured the terrifying moment the earth began to shake in Marrakech. People reacted with shock, hastily seeking shelter as dust and debris filled the air.
In the heart of the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, a mosque minaret had collapsed in Jemaa al-Fna Square. Some houses in the densely populated old city crumbled, leaving residents to clear debris manually while awaiting heavy machinery.
Morocco declared three days of national mourning, marked by flying the national flag at half-staff throughout the country, according to the royal court’s announcement on Saturday.
To provide relief to the affected areas, the Moroccan armed forces pledged to deploy rescue teams, delivering clean drinking water, food supplies, tents, and blankets.
Turkey, which had endured its own devastating earthquakes earlier in the year, expressed solidarity and offered support, as did Algeria, which, despite recent tensions with Morocco, opened its airspace for humanitarian and medical flights.
This earthquake, with a depth of 18.5 km, is typically more destructive than deeper quakes of the same magnitude. It stands as Morocco’s deadliest since 1960 when a quake claimed the lives of at least 12,000 people, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Mohammad Kashani, an associate professor of structural and earthquake engineering at the University of Southampton, drew parallels between the aftermath in Morocco and the situation in Turkey earlier in the year. He noted that the area is replete with old and historical masonry buildings, many of which are either old or substandard and prone to collapsing.
Despite the forthcoming annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank scheduled for October 9 in Marrakech, the focus remains squarely on the well-being of the Moroccan people. Leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, expressed their condolences and support for the nation during this trying time.
Morocco has a history of frequent earthquakes in its northern region, owing to its location between the African and Eurasian plates. The 1960 earthquake near Agadir, measuring 5.8 in magnitude, resulted in significant loss of life and prompted changes in construction regulations in Morocco. However, many buildings, particularly rural homes, are ill-equipped to withstand such seismic events.
In 2004, another earthquake, measuring 6.4 in magnitude, struck near the Mediterranean coastal city of Al Hoceima, claiming the lives of over 600 people. The recent earthquake on Friday sent shockwaves as far as Portugal and Algeria.