Morocco: death toll rises to 820 after powerful earthquake

Morocco: death toll rises to 820 after powerful earthquake

Marrakesh, Morocco — A powerful and unusual earthquake shook Morocco yesterday, Friday, night and left hundreds dead and buildings damaged from the historic city of Marrakech to towns in the Atlas Mountains.

The Interior Ministry reported 820 people dead on Saturday morning. In addition, another 672 people were injured, 205 of them seriously, it added.

The death toll is expected to rise as the search continues and rescuers reach remote areas.

Moroccan television showed scenes of aftershock damage, with many residents outdoors for fear of tremors.

Anxious families remained in the street or huddled on sidewalks, some with children, blankets or other belongings.

Emergency crews searched for survivors among the rubble of the buildings, their yellow reflective vests illuminating the night landscape. The earthquake opened a huge hole in one side and a car was almost buried under the pieces of a collapsed building.

Baskets, buckets and clothes could be seen scattered among the rubble of a building.

The Moroccan press reported that the 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque, one of Marrakech’s main monuments, suffered damage, but the extent was not immediately known. Its minaret, 69 meters (226 feet) high, is known as the “roof of Marrakech.”

Moroccans also posted videos showing damaged parts of the famous red walls surrounding the city’s old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The official of a town near the epicenter told the Moroccan news website 2M that several homes in nearby towns had completely or partially collapsed, and in some places there was no electricity and roads were cut off.

Abderrahim Ait Daoud, an official in Talat N’Yaaqoub, indicated that the authorities are working to clear roads in the province of Al Hauz so that ambulances and aid to the affected populations could pass through. But the great distance between the mountain towns means that we will have to wait to know the extent of the damage.

The local press reported that the access roads to the mountainous area near the epicenter were crowded with vehicles and cut by fallen stones, which slowed down rescue operations.

Al Hauz is known for its spectacular landscapes of the High Atlas and for the Amazigh villages nestled on the slopes of the mountains.

On Saturday, messages of support came from all over the world. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz posted his condolences on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. For his part, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the host of the G20 summit taking place this weekend in his country, wrote that “India is ready to offer all possible help to Morocco in these difficult times.”

A United Nations spokesperson indicated that the organization “stands ready to assist the Moroccan government in its efforts to help the affected population.”

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 68 and occurred at 11:11 pm (Morocco time), with shaking that lasted several seconds. Nineteen minutes later, a magnitude 4.9 aftershock struck, it added.

The epicenter of the quake was located near the town of Ighil, in Al Hauz, some 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) south of Marrakech.

The USGS said the epicenter was 18 kilometers (11 miles) deep, while Morocco’s seismic agency said it was 11 km (7 miles) deep. In any case, these shallow quakes are more dangerous.

Initial reports suggested that damage and deaths were most severe in the Marrakech-Safi region, made up of a mix of cities, small towns and valley territories with more than 4.5 million inhabitants, according to state figures.

Earthquakes are relatively unusual in North Africa. Speaking to 2M TV, Lahcen Mhanni, director of the Seismic Surveillance and Warning department at the National Institute of Geophysics, said this was the most powerful ever recorded in the mountainous region.

In 1960, a magnitude 5.8 tremor near the Moroccan city of Agadir caused thousands of deaths. This caused changes in construction standards in the country, but many buildings, especially in rural areas, are not prepared to resist earthquake movements.

In 2004, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake near the Mediterranean city of Al Hoceima claimed the lives of more than 600 people.

Friday’s quake was felt as far away as Portugal and Algeriaaccording to the Portuguese Institute of the Sea and the Atmosphere and the Algerian Civil Defense Agency, which oversees the emergency response.

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