Powerful Earthquake In Morocco Kills More Than 800 People

A man walks with his belongings through the rubble in an alleyway in the earthquake-damaged old city in Marrakesh on September 9, 2023. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

At least 820 people were killed in Morocco’s deadliest earthquake in decades, officials said Saturday, wreaking widespread devastation and sending scared residents and tourists fleeing to safety in the middle of the night.

The 6.8-magnitude quake struck a hilly location 72 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of Marrakesh around 11:11 p.m. (2211 GMT) Friday, according to the US Geological Survey.

Strong earthquakes were also detected in Rabat, Casablanca, and Essaouira on the Moroccan coast.

“We felt a very violent tremor, and I realised it was an earthquake,” Abdelhak El Amrani, 33, told AFP by telephone from Marrakesh.

A woman reacts standing infront of her earthquake-damaged house in the old city in Marrakesh on September 9, 2023. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

“I could see buildings moving,” said Amrani who went outside, joining many other people, “all in shock and panic. The children were crying and the parents were distraught.”

It was the most powerful quake to ever hit the country, and one expert called it the region’s “biggest in more than 120 years”.

“Where destructive earthquakes are rare, buildings are simply not constructed robustly enough… so many collapse, resulting in high casualties,” said Bill McGuire, professor emeritus at Britain’s University College London.

Updated interior ministry figures on Saturday showed the quake killed 820 people, more than one-third of them in Al-Haouz, the epicentre, and Taroudant provinces.

Residents stay out at a square in Marrakesh on September 9, 2023, after an earthquake. – A powerful earthquake that struck Morocco on September 8 night has killed at least 632 people and injured 329 others, according to an updated interior ministry toll. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

According to updated interior ministry numbers released on Saturday, the quake killed 820 people, with more over one-third of those deceased in Al-Haouz, the epicentre, and Taroudant provinces.

The government also reported deaths in the provinces of Ouarzazate, Chichaoua, Azilal, and Youssoufia, as well as Marrakesh, Agadir, and the Casablanca area.

According to the ministry, 672 people were hurt, with 205 of them in critical condition.

 ‘Unbearable’ screams

Faisal Baddour, an engineer, said he felt the earthquake three times in his building.

“There are families who are still sleeping outside because we were so scared of the force of this earthquake,” he said. “It was as if a train was passing close to our houses.”

Frenchman Michael Bizet, 43, who owns three traditional riad houses in Marrakesh’s old town, told AFP that he was in bed when the quake struck.

“I thought my bed was going to fly away. I went out into the street half-naked and immediately went to see my riads. It was total chaos, a real catastrophe, madness,” he said.

Bizet shared video of piles of rubble from collapsed walls in the streets.

Other footage on social media showed part of a minaret collapsed on Jemaa el-Fna square in the historic city.

A woman reacts standing infront of her earthquake-damaged house in the old city in Marrakesh on September 9, 2023. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

An AFP correspondent saw hundreds of people flocking to the square to spend the night for fear of aftershocks, some with blankets while others slept on the ground.

Houda Outassaf, a local resident, told AFP he was walking around the square when the ground began to shake.

“It was a truly staggering sensation. We’re safe and sound, but I’m still in shock,” he said.

“I have at least 10 members of my family who died… I can hardly believe it, as I was with them no more than two days ago.”

Fayssal Badour, another Marrakesh resident, told AFP the earthquake hit while he was driving.

“I stopped and realised what a disaster it was… The screaming and crying was unbearable,” he said.

According to the interior ministry, officials have “mobilized all necessary resources to intervene and assist the affected areas.”

The regional blood transfusion center in Marrakesh has asked citizens to give blood for individuals who have been harmed.

A family was caught in the wreckage after their house fell in the village of Al-Haouz, near the epicentre of the earthquake, according to local media.

 Significant damage likely

“We heard screams at the time of the tremor,” a resident of Essaouira, 200 kilometres west of Marrakesh, told AFP.

“People are in the squares, in the cafes, preferring to sleep outside. Pieces of facades have fallen.”

The USGS PAGER system, which offers preliminary seismic impact assessments, issued a “red alert” for economic losses, indicating that substantial damage is predicted and the disaster will be widespread.

According to the US government agency, previous situations with this warning level have necessitated a national or worldwide reaction.

According to worldwide internet watchdog NetBlocks, internet access was disrupted in Marrakesh owing to power outages.

A woman evacuates with her belongings through the rubble in the earthquake-damaged old city of Marrakesh on September 9, 2023. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

European leaders, as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, expressed their sympathies.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister who established diplomatic relations with Morocco in 2020, directed “any necessary assistance.”

The earthquake was also felt in neighboring Algeria, although no damage or casualties were reported, according to the Algerian Civil Defence.

A magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck Al Hoceima in northwestern Morocco in 2004, killing at least 628 people and injuring 926 more, and a magnitude 6.7 earthquake in Agadir killed almost 12,000 people in 1960.

In 1980, the 7.3-magnitude El Asnam earthquake in neighboring Algeria killed 2,500 people and displaced at least 300,000 people.

Written by PH

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