More than 2,000 people were killed when a strong earthquake slammed Morocco on Friday night. This earthquake sparked frantic rescue attempts through rubble-strewn city streets and isolated rural areas, with some locals sifting through mountains of debris with their bare hands.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the earthquake, which had a magnitude of at least 6.8 and was centered about 50 miles from Marrakesh in southern Morocco, was the biggest to strike the region in a century. It reverberated through the middle of the nation, trembling not only Marrakesh but also Ouarzazate, a significant city in the southeast, and Agadir, a resort on Morocco’s Atlantic coast.
Many of the homes in the afflicted area are composed of mud bricks, a traditional building material that is extremely prone to earthquakes and torrential rain. Much of the affected area is rural.
Across the nation, scenes of destruction were taking place. Residents of Marrakesh, the capital and largest city of southern Morocco, poured out of their homes onto the city’s cobblestone streets to find mountains of red dust from the walled old city, or medina, as well as piles of debris from buildings that had collapsed around them.
Moroccans hiked down gorges between collapsing homes that spilled across roads and communities in the worst-affected rural areas in an effort to recover their deceased.
Yasmina Bennani was preparing to fall asleep on Friday night in the village of Amizmiz near the epicenter, roughly 30 miles southwest of Marrakesh. Her kitchen sink and stove were clogged with dust and debris as a result of the shaking, which also damaged walls, broke vases and lamps, and sent ceiling tiles plummeting to the floor.
The journalist Ms. Bennani, 38, who lives in a mud-brick home like many others in the neighborhood, said, “I felt terrorized.” “It didn’t last long, but it felt like years.”
According to the Moroccan interior ministry, the earthquake caused at least 2,012 fatalities and 2,059 injuries.
It was still unclear how big the earthquake exactly was. The Moroccan Geological Institute determined its magnitude to be 7.2, compared to the U.S. Geological Survey’s assessment of 6.8. On the basis of how earthquakes are measured using a logarithmic scale, that would make it more than twice as big. Local estimates are frequently more accurate, according to the U.S. agency, but initial magnitude data are taken automatically and require evaluation by seismologists.
On Saturday, the shapes of the damage were still developing. The rural districts outside of Marrakesh were the hardest devastated, although it was obvious that the catastrophe’s extent was wide. Early provincial breakdowns of casualties revealed that the rural Haouz region, southeast of Marrakesh, which encompasses a portion of the High Atlas Mountains, had a disproportionately high death toll.
In a statement, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs of the United Nations reported that the earthquake had had an impact on more than 300,000 inhabitants in Marrakesh and the surrounding area. The statement read, “Many families are trapped under the rubble of their homes and damage has also been reported to parts of Marrakesh’s Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”
Numerous clay homes, according to Moroccan architects, are located close to the epicenter and were not designed to withstand an earthquake of this magnitude. According to Omar Farkhani, the former head of the Moroccan National Order of Architects, people in these areas sometimes lack the funds to hire architects and must instead build their homes themselves or with the assistance of unskilled laborers.
The architects claimed that despite government efforts to tighten earthquake-resistant building requirements in recent years, many contractors continue to break the rules in an effort to reduce construction costs.
“Given the state of the buildings in the country, this death toll was kind of expected,” said Anass Amazirh, an architect in Casablanca, a city in northern Morocco, where inhabitants felt the earth tremble but there were no immediate reports of injuries or property damage.
According to 2M, Morocco’s state-owned media, the early rescue efforts in some of these hard-hit rural areas were proving difficult because many of the villages are built into the red, craggy mountains surrounding Marrakesh, as well as because the few roads snaking through the countryside were blocked by fallen debris. Some of the worst-affected neighborhoods also had no phone service or electricity.
King Mohammed VI of Morocco remained silent about the tragedy for more than 12 hours following the earthquake. When he finally spoke, he avoided addressing the crowd and instead made a quick statement announcing that he had given the military of the nation orders to assist in the rescue operations. According to the Moroccan Army, the air force is transporting wounded people from the severely damaged Haouz province to a military hospital in Marrakesh.
It was not immediately known where the monarch was when the earthquake struck, but he routinely leaves the country without giving a reason. Unless they are publicizing his attendance at a formal occasion, his cabinet, which appears to manage the day-to-day operations of state, rarely makes his whereabouts known to Moroccan residents.
However, Morocco has seen very few, if any, public signs of the political unrest that has recently shook other regions of Africa and the Middle East. For the majority of Moroccans, the economy is the most urgent issue.
Morocco has seen a number of setbacks over the past several years, beginning with the coronavirus pandemic, which put the nation’s crucial tourism economy on hold, much like many of its neighbors in the Middle East and North Africa. Long-lasting drought has made it difficult for farmers to make a living, while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has driven up the cost of imported items like wheat.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the tourism sector alone contributed more than 7% of the country’s GDP and 565,000 jobs before the pandemic, with the majority of those jobs being concentrated in Marrakesh and the surrounding area.
Quick offers of assistance came from nations including Taiwan, Algeria, and Israel.
One of the first to do so was France, an ex-colonial power in Morocco. In addition, the mayor of Marseille, a port city in southern France, announced that he would deploy firefighters to assist with rescue attempts in Marrakesh, a sister city, and the French Embassy in Morocco established a crisis hotline.
In a statement released early on Saturday, President Biden said that his government was in touch with Moroccan officials and had offered assistance.
Mr. Biden stated, “We are moving quickly to ensure the safety of American citizens in Morocco and stand ready to provide any necessary assistance for the Moroccan people.”
Turkish officials announced that their nation was prepared to send 265 aid workers and 1,000 tents to the region after a devastating and fatal earthquake devastated Turkey in February. But before anything could be done, Morocco would need to publicly request help, which is a requirement before foreign crews can deploy.
Images from Marrakesh’s medieval city center, an 11th-century UNESCO World Heritage Site, revealed extensive devastation. Some cars sank beneath mounds of crumpled concrete as gray ruins of demolished buildings sagged on street corners.
Raja Bouri, 33, a resident of the suburbs of Marrakech, claimed that while the walls of her house had survived the earthquake, her kitchen had been completely destroyed.
Ms. Bouri remarked, “I’ve never felt anything like this in my life. “I felt as if a plane had crashed on me.”
Jihane Maftouh, 36, described the panic she experienced when she first felt the tremors in Agadir, a beach resort that is popular with visitors and is located about 160 miles southwest of Marrakesh.
“We prayed when we heard something break. I changed into my clothes and fled the house without even turning around, she claimed.
Other places had heartbreaking scenes as well. Unidentified woman on Moroccan official television said that her husband and four children had perished in the earthquake.
She cried out in anguish, “Mustapha, Hassan, Ilhem, Ghizlaine, Ilyes,” her voice breaking. I lost all I owned. I am alone myself.
Residents of the tiny, 1,000-person community of Mezguida in southeast Morocco claim that almost everyone slept outside on Friday night due to aftershock fears. In rural Morocco, families frequently spend the hot summer nights sleeping outside on their roofs to stay cool. On Saturday, several people in the village intended to spend a second night sleeping outside.
The U.S. Geological Survey describes serious earthquakes in Morocco as “uncommon but not unexpected,” and they have already caused fatalities and substantial economic damage.
Morocco is situated at the point where the African and Eurasian plates are colliding in slow motion. The movements have lifted the Atlas Mountains over millions of years, distorted the environment, and created an intricate network of cracks throughout the area.
Since the plates are only colliding at a pace of 4 to 6 millimeters per year near Morocco, earthquakes do not occur frequently there. In contrast, the ground along the San Andreas Fault changes by about 50 millimeters annually. However, over a long period of time, the gradual movement near Africa’s northern coast can build up enough stress to trigger strong earthquakes, such as Friday’s devastating tremor.
The 5.8-magnitude earthquake that occurred in March 1960 and left at least 12,000 people dead was the worst in recent Moroccan history.
Under the weight of that earthquake, Agadir fell. A third of its citizens perished. Thousands of people were buried under concrete as restaurants, stores, and the central market were destroyed.
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