Authorities reported Saturday that more than 1,000 people were killed in Morocco’s biggest earthquake in decades, which also left extensive damage and panicked locals and visitors running for cover in the middle of the night.
The 6.8-magnitude earthquake occurred at 11:11 pm (2211 GMT) on Friday in a hilly region 72 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of Marrakech, a popular tourist destination, according to the US Geological Survey.
The coastal cities of Rabat, Casablanca, and Essaouira also experienced strong tremors.
Ghannou Najem, a woman in her 80s from Casablanca who was in Marrakesh when the earthquake struck, stated, “I was almost asleep when I heard the doors and the shutters banging.”
“I panicked and ran outside. I believed I would pass away alone.”
It is the strongest-ever quake to hit the North African kingdom, and one expert described it as 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.
According to revised interior ministry statistics released on Saturday, the earthquake claimed at least 1,037 lives, the majority of them were located in the provinces of Taroudant and Al-Haouz, which was the epicenter.
The ministry reported that there were 1,204 further injuries, including 721 persons in critical condition.
Deaths in the provinces of Ouarzazate, Chichaoua, Azilal, and Youssoufia, as well as in Marrakesh, Agadir, and the Casablanca region, were also reported by the ministry.
Engineer Faisal Badour claimed to have felt the Marrakesh earthquake three times while inside his building.
Because we were so terrified of the magnitude of the earthquake, there are families who are still sleeping outside, he said. “I could not stand the sobbing and yelling.
Rescuers were looking for survivors in the wreckage of collapsed houses in Moulay Brahim hamlet in the mountains of Al-Haouz province, close to the epicenter of the earthquake, according to AFP sources.
Locals reportedly started creating tombs for the victims on a neighboring hill.
Owner of three traditional riad homes in Marrakesh’s old town and a Frenchman by the name of Michael Bizet, 43, told AFP that he was asleep when the earthquake hit.
“I feared that my bed might fly away. I entered the street partially clothed and walked straight to my riads. He described it as absolute anarchy, a tragedy, and lunacy.
Social media videos showed a minaret in the historic city’s Jemaa el-Fna square partially collapsing.
In the square, hundreds of people camped out for the night out of dread of aftershocks, some with blankets and some just sleeping on the ground.
Mimi Theobold, 25, an English tourist, claimed to have been on a restaurant terrace with friends when plates started flying and tables started shaking.
Local resident Houda Outassaf claimed to be “still in shock” after experiencing the earth trembling beneath her feet and losing family members.
“At least ten of my family members passed away,” Since I was just with them two days ago, I can hardly believe it, she remarked.
The interior ministry said authorities have “mobilised all the necessary resources to intervene and help the affected areas”.
The regional blood transfusion centre in Marrakesh called on residents to donate blood for those injured.
The army has set up a field hospital in Moulay Brahim and deployed “significant human and logistical resources” to support search and rescue efforts in Al-Haouz, state news agency MAP said.
“We heard screams at the time of the tremor,” a resident of Essaouira, 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of Marrakesh, told AFP. “Pieces of facades have fallen.”
A “red alert” for economic losses was issued by the USGS PAGER system, which offers early evaluations of the effects of earthquakes, stating that substantial damage is likely.
Foreign leaders extended support and expressed their condolences, including those from Israel, with whom Morocco normalized relations in 2020.
In a statement, US President Joe Biden stated he was “deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation”.
According to Beijing’s state media, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed “deep sorrow for the victims” and hoped that “the Moroccan government and people will be able to overcome the impact of this disaster.”
“His profound solidarity with those who are touched in the flesh and heart by this tragedy,” said Pope Francis.
Although the earthquake was also felt in neighboring Algeria, neither damage nor casualties were reported there, according to Algerian Civil Defence.
In 2004, an earthquake that struck Al Hoceima in northeastern Morocco resulted in at least 628 fatalities and 926 injuries, while in 1960, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake in Agadir resulted in more than 12,000 fatalities.
In 1980, Algeria had the 7.3-magnitude El Asnam earthquake, which claimed 2,500 lives and left at least 300,000 people homeless.