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Earthquake kills at least 2,000 in Morocco

 September 11, 2023

A devastating earthquake has ravaged Morocco, leaving more than 2,000 casualties and many communities in ruins.

The 6.8 magnitude quake struck late Friday, with the aftermath revealing extensive damage across various towns and villages. Stone and masonry walls, from which many of the buildings in these areas are traditionally constructed, could not endure the quake's intensity and came crumbling down, the Associated Press reported.

Catastrophic damage throughout the region

Communities located on the winding switchbacks of the High Atlas Mountains were particularly affected by the quake. Here, entire homes collapsed upon themselves, leading to heart-wrenching scenes of parents mourning their lost children.

In the parched Ouargane Valley, villagers found themselves isolated as electricity and mobile services went offline.

By midday, many had congregated outdoors, grieving their lost ones, capturing the devastation on their phones, and offering prayers for safety.

Hamid Idsalah, a 72-year-old mountain guide lamented:

I can’t reconstruct my home. I don’t know what I’ll do. Still, I’m alive, so I’ll wait.

His words echoed the sentiments of many who had survived but lost everything in the disaster.

Historic Marrakech bears the brunt

Marrakech, a historic city with rich cultural landmarks, was deeply affected.

On state TV, residents were seen gathered outdoors, fearing the instability of buildings after the quake. The Koutoubia Mosque, an architectural marvel from the 12th century, sustained damage.

The magnitude of the devastation was further highlighted by videos showing damage to the iconic red walls surrounding the old city, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

Death toll continues to rise

By Saturday night, the Moroccan Interior Ministry reported a death toll of at least 2,012, with an additional 2,059 injured.

Among those injured, 1,404 were in critical condition. These numbers primarily represent casualties from Marrakech and five provinces close to the earthquake’s epicenter.

Bill McGuire, an expert from University College London, remarked:

The problem is that where destructive earthquakes are rare, buildings are simply not constructed robustly enough to cope with strong ground shaking, so many collapse, resulting in high casualties.

Government and international response

Recognizing the scale of the calamity, Morocco's King Mohammed VI directed the military to deploy specialized rescue teams.

Despite global offers of assistance, the Moroccan government had yet to formally request international aid.

The earthquake’s epicenter was identified near the town of Ighil in Al Haouz Province, a picturesque area known for its valleys and villages nestled within the High Atlas Mountains.

Traumatic aftermath and challenges

Residents of affected areas faced a myriad of challenges, from impassable roads littered with boulders to shortages of essentials like food and water.

In the village of Ijjoukak, close to Toubkal, North Africa's highest peak, it is estimated that nearly 200 buildings were destroyed.

Mohamed Messi, a 34-year-old resident, described the earthquake:

It felt like a bomb went off.

In a somber gesture, Morocco has declared three days of national mourning, with flags being flown at half-staff across the country.

International solidarity

Support has poured in from across the globe.

Nations including Turkey, France, and Germany have extended offers of help. Interestingly, Algeria, a longstanding rival, has offered to open its airspace for potential humanitarian aid, a significant gesture given the countries' strained relations.

Experts revealed that a collision of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates caused the earthquake.

This event, occurring at a relatively shallow depth, intensified the quake's impact, making it even more hazardous.

Historical context

Though earthquakes are uncommon in North Africa, they aren't unprecedented.

The strongest quake ever recorded in this region was in 1960, causing significant casualties. In 2004, over 600 people died in another earthquake near the city of Al Hoceima.

The tremors from Friday's quake were felt as far as Portugal and Algeria, indicative of its immense power and reach.

Conclusion

  • Powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake hits Morocco, causing extensive damage and over 2,000 deaths.
  • Many historic sites, including the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, were damaged.
  • International support pours in, with offers of aid from various countries, including traditional rival Algeria.
  • Experts point to the shallow depth of the quake as a contributing factor to its devastation.
  • Morocco mourns as the country faces the aftermath and the challenges of recovery.