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Tragedy Strikes Morocco: Devastating Earthquake Claims Lives and Historic Landmarks

September 9, 2023








Late Friday night, Morocco was shaken by a rare and powerful earthquake that left a trail of destruction, claiming the lives of hundreds of people and causing extensive damage from the Atlas Mountains to the cherished city of Marrakech.

The Moroccan Interior Ministry reported early Saturday that the quake had resulted in at least 296 casualties in the provinces near the epicenter, with an additional 153 injured individuals receiving medical treatment. The majority of the damage was concentrated outside urban areas.

Heartbreaking scenes unfolded as Moroccan television broadcasted the aftermath, with many residents opting to stay outdoors due to fear of aftershocks. Anxious families gathered in the streets, some clutching their children, blankets, or personal belongings. Rescue workers navigated through debris, sifting through the remnants of collapsed walls, while one car was nearly buried beneath the ruins of a building.

Amid the scattered stones in the remains of a building, everyday items such as baskets, buckets, and clothing were visible. The immediate aftermath witnessed panic near the 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, with reports of damage to the mosque itself. The extent of the damage was yet to be fully assessed. The mosque’s 69-meter minaret, often referred to as the “roof of Marrakech,” is a prominent symbol of the city.

Videos shared by Moroccans on social media revealed sections of the renowned red walls that encircle Marrakech’s old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, had sustained damage.

Authorities in towns near the earthquake’s epicenter reported that several homes in neighboring areas had either partially or completely collapsed, with disruptions to electricity and road access in some locations. Abderrahim Ait Daoud, the head of the town of Talat N’Yaaqoub, stated that efforts were underway to clear roads in Al Haouz Province, allowing ambulances and aid to reach affected populations. However, the remote mountainous terrain meant that assessing the full extent of the damage would take time.

Local media conveyed that roads leading to the mountainous region around the epicenter were congested with vehicles and obstructed by fallen rocks, impeding rescue efforts.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the earthquake initially measured a magnitude of 6.8 when it struck at 11:11 p.m. GMT, with several seconds of intense shaking. The agency reported a magnitude-4.9 aftershock occurring 19 minutes later.

The epicenter of the tremor was situated near the town of Ighil in Al Haouz Province, approximately 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) to the south of Marrakech.

While the USGS indicated that the epicenter was 18 kilometers (11 miles) beneath the Earth’s surface, Morocco’s seismic agency reported it at a depth of 8 kilometers (5 miles). In both cases, shallow earthquakes like these tend to be more destructive.

Earthquakes are infrequent in North Africa, with Lahcen Mhanni, Head of the Seismic Monitoring and Warning Department at the National Institute of Geophysics, describing this event as the most potent ever recorded in the mountainous region. The last significant earthquake in Morocco occurred in 1960, with a magnitude of 5.8 near Agadir, resulting in numerous fatalities and leading to changes in construction regulations. However, many buildings, especially  in rural areas, are still ill-equipped to withstand such tremors.

In 2004, a devastating 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck near the Mediterranean coastal city of Al Hoceima, claiming over 600 lives.

The impact of Friday’s earthquake extended beyond Morocco, with reports of tremors being felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria, according to the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere and Algeria’s Civil Defense agency, responsible for emergency response.

Credit: AP

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