In a devastating turn of events, a powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Morocco on Friday night, leaving behind a trail of destruction. The quake, the strongest to hit this part of North Africa in over a century, struck with tragic consequences, claiming the lives of more than 600 people and causing extensive damage, especially in the historic city of Marrakech.
The earthquake’s epicenter was located approximately 72 kilometers (44.7 miles) southwest of Marrakech, a city known for its rich history, vibrant culture, and popularity among tourists. The tremor occurred at a relatively shallow depth of 18.5 kilometers (11.4 miles) shortly after 11 p.m. local time.
Morocco’s Interior Ministry reported that at least 632 people have lost their lives in the disaster, with 329 others sustaining injuries. Among the injured, 51 individuals are in critical condition, emphasizing the severity of the situation.
Following the quake, many residents spent a restless night on the streets of various cities, fearing potential aftershocks. Rescue efforts commenced urgently as authorities attempted to locate and aid those trapped in the rubble. Health authorities called on the community to donate blood to assist the injured.
Unfortunately, the hardest-hit areas were often located in mountainous terrain near the epicenter, making rescue operations challenging. Damaged roads further complicated the situation, impeding access to the most affected regions.
The Royal Moroccan Armed Forces issued warnings to residents, urging them to remain vigilant for potential aftershocks. They emphasized the need to exercise caution and follow safety measures in the aftermath of the earthquake.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the earthquake was notably strong for this region. The USGS explained that earthquakes of this magnitude in the area are infrequent but not entirely unexpected. Since 1900, there had been no earthquakes with a magnitude of 6 or higher within 500 kilometers of this event, and only nine with a magnitude of 5 or higher.
The USGS also cautioned that significant damage was likely, and the disaster could have widespread implications. Many structures in the affected area were deemed highly vulnerable to earthquake shaking.
Reports from Al-Aoula television depicted multiple buildings collapsed near the epicenter, and thousands of people had fled their homes following warnings of potential aftershocks. The mountain village of Asni, situated close to the epicenter, experienced significant damage, with numerous houses affected.
The tremors were felt as far west as Taroudant, where residents described the ground shaking for approximately 20 seconds. Doors reportedly opened and closed on their own as people rushed to safety. The earthquake’s impact was particularly felt in Marrakech, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where buildings and city walls suffered damage and partial collapses.
CNN researcher Benjamin Brown, who was in Marrakech during the earthquake, reported that initially, residents remained calm as they evacuated buildings. However, panic set in as the extent of injuries became apparent. Brown described the scenes of injured individuals being carried out on stretchers and wrapped in carpets, some with severe head injuries.
Parts of the historic red walls surrounding Marrakech’s old city center, which date back to the 12th century, crumbled during the quake. Videos and photos showed public spaces, including squares and traffic roundabouts, filled with people seeking safety. Some residents set up makeshift beds as they braced for the night ahead.
As a former imperial city with a rich history spanning nearly a millennium, Marrakech is a city densely packed with medieval-era palaces, mosques, gardens, and bustling markets. Its historic quarters are enclosed by distinctive red earth walls, contributing to its nickname, the “red city.” Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Marrakech welcomed nearly three million tourists in 2019, highlighting its cultural significance and economic importance.
This tragic earthquake has not only claimed lives and caused immense damage but has also left a profound impact on the heart of Morocco. As the nation mourns its losses and works tirelessly to recover, the resilience and strength of its people shine through in the face of adversity.