The deadliest earthquake in decades has struck central Morocco, resulting in the tragic loss of more than 800 lives. Many of the victims were in remote mountainous regions that were difficult to access.
The earthquake, measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale, shook Morocco’s High Atlas mountain range shortly after 11 p.m. local time on Friday. The epicenter was located about 72 kilometers southwest of Marrakech, a popular tourist destination with a population of around 840,000 people. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported that the quake had a relatively shallow depth of 18.5 kilometers.
According to Morocco’s Interior Ministry, at least 820 people lost their lives, and another 672 were injured, with 205 in critical condition. This catastrophe marks the most significant earthquake in Morocco since 2004, when a 6.3-magnitude quake struck Al Hoceima, claiming approximately 630 lives. The worst earthquake in modern Moroccan history occurred in 1960 near Agadir, causing the death of at least 12,000 people.
Eyewitnesses in the Atlas Mountains foothills described scenes of devastation. Many homes were destroyed, leaving residents like Fatima and Mohammed homeless and mourning the loss of loved ones. Rescue operations were underway, but the challenging terrain and damaged roads hindered access to the hardest-hit areas.
Fearful of aftershocks, many Moroccans spent the night outdoors, and health authorities called for blood donations to assist the victims. Most casualties occurred in mountainous regions close to the epicenter, which were challenging to reach.
The Royal Moroccan Armed Forces issued warnings about potential aftershocks, urging residents to exercise caution. The USGS noted that this earthquake was exceptionally powerful for the region and warned of significant damage, particularly to structures vulnerable to earthquake shaking.
Television reports showed collapsed buildings near the epicenter, and the National Institute of Geophysics advised people to be cautious of aftershocks. In the mountain village of Asni, near the epicenter, most houses sustained damage, and locals worked tirelessly to rescue those trapped under the rubble.
In Marrakech, a UNESCO World Heritage site, historic buildings and city walls were damaged, causing injuries to some residents. The city’s narrow alleyways were filled with people in pajamas hastily seeking safety during the quake. Panic set in when the extent of injuries became apparent, with ambulances struggling to cope with the influx of casualties.
Marrakech, known as the “red city” for its red sandstone buildings, is a significant cultural and economic center in Morocco. It attracted millions of tourists before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The earthquake’s tremors were felt as far away as the capital, Rabat, approximately 350 kilometers north of the High Atlas mountains. The disaster has brought devastation and sorrow to the region, with rescue efforts ongoing and a nation in mourning.