Morocco quake death toll crosses 1,000

Published September 9, 2023
A general view of damage in the historic city of Marrakech, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco on September 9. — Reuters
A general view of damage in the historic city of Marrakech, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco on September 9. — Reuters
Residents take shelter ouside at a square following an earthquake in Marrakesh on Saturday (Sep 9). — AFP
Residents take shelter ouside at a square following an earthquake in Marrakesh on Saturday (Sep 9). — AFP
A damaged vehicle is pictured in the historic city of Marrakech, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco, September 9. — Reuters
A damaged vehicle is pictured in the historic city of Marrakech, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco, September 9. — Reuters
A view shows damage at an old mosque in the historic city of Marrakech, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco on Saturday. — Reuters
A view shows damage at an old mosque in the historic city of Marrakech, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco on Saturday. — Reuters
People gather on a street in Casablanca, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco on Saturday (Sep 9). — Reuters
People gather on a street in Casablanca, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco on Saturday (Sep 9). — Reuters

Morocco’s deadliest earthquake in decades has killed more than 1,000 people, authorities said on Saturday, as troops and emergency services scrambled to reach remote mountain villages where casualties are still feared trapped.

Updated interior ministry figures on Saturday showed the quake killed at least 1,037 people, the vast majority in Al-Haouz, the epicentre, and Taroudant provinces.

Another 1,204 people were injured, including 721 in critical condition, the ministry said.

 Map locating the earthquake that shook Morocco late on Friday. — AFP
Map locating the earthquake that shook Morocco late on Friday. — AFP

The 6.8-magnitude quake struck the mountainous area 72 kilometres (45 miles) southwest of tourist hotspot Marrakesh at 11:11pm (10:11pm GMT) on Friday, the US Geological Survey reported.

With strong tremors also felt in the coastal cities of Rabat, Casablanca and Essaouira, the quake caused widespread damage and sent terrified residents and tourists scrambling to safety in the middle of the night.

“I was nearly asleep when I heard the doors and the shutters banging,” said Ghannou Najem, a Casablanca resident in her 80s who was visiting Marrakesh when the quake hit. “I went outside in a panic. I thought I was going to die alone.”

In the mountain village of Moulay Brahim near the quake’s epicentre, rescue teams searched for survivors in the rubble of collapsed houses while residents began digging graves for the dead on a nearby hill, AFP correspondents reported.

The army set up a field hospital in the village and deployed “significant human and logistical resources” to support the rescue operation, state news agency MAP reported.

It was 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.

Civil defence Colonel Hicham Choukri, who is heading relief operations, told state television that the epicentre and strength of the earthquake have created “an exceptional emergency situation”.

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

“I could see buildings moving. We don’t necessarily have the reflexes for this type of situation. Then I went outside and there were a lot of people there.

People were all in shock and panic. The children were crying and the parents were distraught.“ “The power went out for 10 minutes, and so did the (telephone) network, but then it came back on,” he added. “Everyone decided to stay outside.”

FO reaches out to embassy in Rabat

Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said: “The people and Government of Pakistan stand in solidarity with the Kingdom of Morocco and express their heartfelt sympathies and condolences at the tragic loss of lives in yesterday’s earthquake.”

She added that Pakistan has also conveyed “our offer of assistance to Morocco” and that “our embassy in Rabat has reached out to the Pakistani community to inquire about their safety”.

“As per initial reports, all Pakistani nationals are safe,” she added. “We will continue to monitor the situation to facilitate them in the wake of this tragedy.”

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), the Pakistani embassy in Morocco said that Ambassador Hamid Asghar Khan, officers, staff and the Pakistani community there expressed their deepest condolences and were “ready to assist in any manner required”.

Khan, Pakistan’s diplomat there, also reiterated Baloch’s statement: “Thus far Pakistanis in Morocco are reported safe amidst devastation claiming over 800 lives.

“The government of Pakistan stands by ready to assist as required,” he added.

Algeria opens airspace to Morocco quake aid flights

Algeria will allow aircraft carrying humanitarian aid to quake-hit Morocco to pass through its airspace, the president’s office announced, suspending a two-year ban on flights to its regional rival.

Algerian authorities “have decided to open the airspace to flights transporting humanitarian aid and injured” from the quake, the president’s office said in a statement.

Algeria closed its airspace to all Moroccan aircraft in September 2021 after having cut diplomatic ties with its longtime foe.

Despite the rivalry between the North African neighbours, Algerian authorities were “fully prepared to provide humanitarian aid and mobilise all material and human resources in solidarity with the brotherly Moroccan people upon request from the Kingdom of Morocco”, the statement said.

In an earlier statement, the Algerian foreign ministry offered the nation’s “sincere condolences to the brotherly Moroccan people for the victims of the earthquake”.

‘Unbearable’ screams

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

“People went out into the street just after this total panic, and 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 had been in bed at the time of the quake.

“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.

The 43-year-old shared a video of piles of rubble from collapsed walls in the streets.

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

People look at debris in the aftermath of an earthquake in Marrakech, Morocco on September 9 in this screen grab from a social media video in this picture. — Reuters
People look at debris in the aftermath of an earthquake in Marrakech, Morocco on September 9 in this screen grab from a social media video in this picture. — Reuters

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 he was driving when the earthquake hit.

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

The interior ministry said authorities have “mobilised all the necessary resources to intervene and help the affected areas”.

People gather on a street in Casablanca, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco on Saturday (Sep 9). — Reuters
People gather on a street in Casablanca, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco on Saturday (Sep 9). — Reuters

The regional blood transfusion centre in Marrakesh has called on residents to donate blood for those injured.

In the town of Al-Haouz, near the epicentre of the quake, a family was trapped in the rubble after their house collapsed, local media reported.

Significant damage likely

“We heard screams at the time of the tremor,” a resident of Essaouira, 200km 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 provides preliminary assessments on the impact of earthquakes, issued a red alert for economic losses, saying extensive damage is probable and the disaster is likely widespread.

Past events with this alert level have required a national or international level response, according to the US government agency.

Internet connectivity was disrupted in Marrakesh due to power cuts, according to global internet monitor NetBlocks.

Moroccan media reported it was the most powerful earthquake to hit the country to date.

The earthquake was also felt in neighbouring Algeria, where the Algerian Civil Defence said it had not caused any damage or casualties.

In 2004, at least 628 people were killed and 926 injured when a quake hit Al Hoceima in northeastern Morocco, and in 1960 a magnitude 6.7 quake in Agadir killed more than 12,000.

The 7.3-magnitude El Asnam earthquake in neighbouring Algeria in 1980 was regionally one of the most destructive earthquakes in recent history.

Condolences pour in

Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar, in a post on X, said “Our hearts ache for those affected by the severe earthquake in Morocco. Pakistan extends its hand in unity and support to Morocco in this trying time”.

President Arif Alvi also expressed his condolences on the natural disaster and solidarity with the affected people of Morocco. He prayed for the speedy recovery of the injured.

Caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani said he was “deeply saddened” at the loss of precious lives and that Pakistan stood in “full solidarity with our Moroccan brothers and sisters”.

Caretaker Human Rights Minister Khalil George also sympathised with the affected families for the loss of lives and property. He stated that he is “with the government and people of Morocco in this hour of trial”.

Former foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said, “My heart goes out to brotherly people of Morocco affected by the devastating earthquake.”

Extending his “deepest condolences to the victims and their families”, he called for the people to stand “together in solidarity with Morocco and support those in need”.

US President Joe Biden expressed his sympathy for the victims, adding the United States was “ready to provide any necessary assistance”.

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation caused by the earthquake in Morocco,” he said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted by this terrible hardship. “

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a similar “message of condolence” to Morocco, state media reported, joining a chorus of international support for the North African country in the wake of a devastating earthquake.

“On September 9, President Xi Jinping sent a message of condolence to King Mohammed VI of Morocco over the severe earthquake in Morocco,” official broadcaster CCTV said.

“I am shocked to learn that a strong earthquake has occurred in your distinguished country, causing great casualties and property damage,” said Xi, according to CCTV.

“On behalf of the Chinese government and people, I would like to express my deep grief for the victims and sincere condolences to the families.

“I trust that under the leadership of His Majesty the King, the Moroccan government and people will be able to overcome the impact of this disaster and rebuild their homeland at an early date,” he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed similar sentiments and said, in a message to Morocco’s king, “We share the pain and the mourning of the friendly Moroccan people.”

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said “My thoughts are with everyone affected by the terrible earthquake in Morocco last night. “

Foreign Minister James Cleverly said they will help Morocco “in whatever way we can.”

“Devastating news of a substantial earthquake just outside Marrakesh, Morocco,” he said in a post on X. “We stand ready to help our Moroccan friends in whatever way we can.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also offered his condolences. Terming it as bad news for the country, he said, “In these difficult hours, our thoughts are with the victims of the devastating earthquake. Our sympathy goes to all those affected by this natural disaster”.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “pained” by news of the quake.

“In this tragic hour, my thoughts are with the people of Morocco,” Modi said. “Condolences to those who have lost their loved ones. May the injured recover at the earliest. India is ready to offer all possible assistance to Morocco in this difficult time.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez offered his condolences on Saturday to relatives of the victims of the “terrible” earthquake.

“All my solidarity and support to the people of Morocco in the wake of this terrible earthquake… Spain is with the victims of this tragedy and its families,” he wrote on X.

The President of France, Emmanuel Macron said “We are all devastated after the terrible earthquake in Morocco. France stands ready to help with first aid”.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna expressed “solidarity” with the North African country as well.

France’s top diplomat added she was “thinking” about the victims and their families, in a message on X.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also offered support to Morocco after “this devastating earthquake”.

“We will support our Moroccan brothers in every way in this difficult hour,” he said in a message on X.

The head of the African Union Commission also expressed “great pain” over the devastating earthquake.

“I learnt with great sadness of the tragic consequences of the earthquake that hit the kingdom of Morocco,” Moussa Faki Mahamat said, expressing his “sincere condolences” to the king, the Moroccan people and the families of the victims.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said she “learned with the grief of the tragic toll” from the quake and pointed to “Italy’s willingness to support Morocco in this emergency”.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed sympathy “with the Moroccan people in the face of the terrible earthquake”, while top EU diplomat Joseph Borrell said the bloc is ready to provide Morocco “the assistance it wishes”.

Swiss President Alain Berset expressed his condolences. The country’s foreign ministry said it activated a crisis cell and is evaluating sending aid.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said his country stands by Morocco “in these difficult moments.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his “deepest condolences to HM King Mohammed VI and all Moroccans for the lives lost in the horrible earthquake.” “Ukraine stands in solidarity with Morocco during this tragic time,” he said on social media.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “instructed all government bodies and forces to provide any necessary assistance to the people of Morocco, including the preparations for sending an aid delegation to the area,” a statement from his office said.

It is the latest show of support in the wake of the 2020 Abraham Accords that saw Israel normalise ties with a number of Arab countries, including Morocco.

The president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, said we “stand with the Kingdom of Morocco during this difficult time and wish a speedy recovery ahead to all those affected”.

He also ordered an “air bridge to deliver critical relief” to the country, according to state news agency WAM.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt also issued statements expressing their condolences and support after the quake.

The secretary-general of the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Hissein Brahim Taha, prayed for “mercy on the victims and a speedy recovery for the injured”.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the quake as “heartbreaking”, adding: “We stand ready to support the immediate health needs. “

Apart from world leaders, Pakistan cricket team captain Babar Azam said he was disturbed after seeing the visuals coming out from Morocco. “I share my deepest condolences. May Almighty have mercy upon them.”

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