MOROCCO: Late on Friday, a devastating earthquake struck Morocco’s High Atlas mountains, claiming the lives of at least 632 individuals, causing widespread destruction to buildings, and prompting residents of major cities to flee their homes.
The Interior Ministry has stated that this figure constitutes a preliminary death toll, with 329 individuals reported injured. A local official said that the majority of fatalities occurred in remote mountainous regions, making access challenging.
In the city of Marrakech, the closest major urban centre to the earthquake’s epicentre, reports emerged of building collapses within the historic old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Local television broadcasts displayed images of a toppled mosque minaret, with debris strewn across damaged vehicles.
The Interior Ministry, in a televised statement regarding the death toll, called for calm as it reported that the earthquake had struck several provinces: Al Haouz, Azilal, Chichaoua, Marrakech, Ouarzazate, and Taroudant.
In the crowded ancient streets of Marrakech, certain homes had crumbled. Residents had to laboriously clear away rubble manually as they awaited the arrival of heavy machinery.
Video footage of the mediaeval city wall revealed significant cracks in a particular section, along with sections where parts had collapsed, leaving rubble strewn across the street.
An eyewitness saw ambulances exiting the historic district and noted numerous building facades displaying damage. People were feeling fearful and opting to remain outdoors in anticipation of potential aftershocks.
In the western region near Taroudant, teacher Hamid Afkar stated he had to flee his home and experienced aftershocks. He said, “The earth shook for about 20 seconds. The doors opened and shut by themselves as I rushed downstairs from the second floor.”
Residents of Rabat, situated approximately 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Ighil, as well as those in the coastal town of Imsouane, about 180 kilometres to the west, evacuated their residences out of concern for a more powerful earthquake, per witnesses.
In Casablanca, located some 250 kilometres north of Ighil, individuals who had spent the night in the streets were too frightened to go back to their houses.
According to Morocco’s geophysical centre, the earthquake occurred in the Ighil area of the High Atlas with a magnitude of 7.2. The U.S. Geological Survey reported a slightly lower magnitude of 6.8 for the earthquake, noting that it occurred at a relatively shallow depth of 18.5 kilometres (11.5 miles).
Ighil, a region characterised by mountainous terrain and small farming communities, is situated approximately 70 kilometres (40 miles) southwest of Marrakech. The earthquake occurred shortly after 11 p.m. (2200 GMT).
The quake marks Morocco’s most devastating earthquake since 2004, when a tremor near Al Hoceima in the northern Rif mountains claimed the lives of over 600 individuals.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Spanish government and many leaders expressed their condolences.