Morocco’s government has sadly confirmed that the death toll resulting from a rare and powerful earthquake near Marrakech has risen significantly, reaching 632 fatalities, with 329 people sustaining injuries as authorities assess the extensive damage caused.
As with many earthquakes, the number of casualties continues to rise as the full extent of the disaster becomes clear, especially in remote and hard-to-reach areas.
This devastating earthquake struck late Friday night, claiming the lives of hundreds and causing structural damage to buildings in regions stretching from villages in the Atlas Mountains to the historic city of Marrakech. Earlier reports from Morocco’s Interior Ministry on Saturday had initially indicated at least 632 fatalities.
The aftermath of this tragedy was captured on Moroccan television, showing scenes of families anxiously gathered outside, fearful of potential aftershocks. Emergency responders worked tirelessly to search for survivors amidst the rubble of collapsed buildings, with reflective yellow vests illuminating the nighttime landscape. The destructive power of the quake was evident, with homes damaged and a car nearly buried beneath the debris of a collapsed structure.
Among the wreckage, scattered items like baskets, buckets, and clothing could be seen amid the debris. Videos shared online depicted people fleeing in panic near the renowned 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, a cherished landmark of the city. Reports emerged that the mosque had incurred damage, although the full extent remained uncertain. The mosque’s 69-meter (226-foot) minaret, known as the “roof of Marrakech,” is an iconic symbol of the city.
Additionally, images circulated online depicting sections of the famous red walls that encircle Marrakech’s historic old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, also sustaining damage.
In the wake of this tragedy, messages of support and condolences poured in from around the world. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were among those expressing their sympathies, with offers of assistance and support for Morocco’s recovery efforts.
The United Nations also extended its readiness to assist the Moroccan government in providing aid to affected populations during this challenging time.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported that the initial earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 when it struck at 11:11 p.m. (2211 GMT), with several seconds of shaking. The USGS also recorded a magnitude-4.9 aftershock occurring 19 minutes later.
The epicenter of this tremor was located near the town of Ighil in Al Haouz Province, approximately 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) south of Marrakech. The USGS stated that the epicenter was 18 kilometers (11 miles) beneath the Earth’s surface, while Morocco’s seismic agency estimated it to be at a depth of 11 kilometers (7 miles). Shallow earthquakes like this one tend to be more destructive.
Earthquakes are relatively uncommon in North Africa, and this event has been described as the strongest ever recorded in the mountainous region. It serves as a tragic reminder of the need for enhanced earthquake preparedness, particularly in regions where construction standards may not be designed to withstand such seismic activity.
Notably, Morocco has experienced significant earthquakes in its history, with the devastating 1960 earthquake near Agadir leading to changes in construction regulations. Despite these measures, many buildings, particularly rural homes, may still lack the necessary resilience against powerful tremors.
In 2004, another substantial earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4 occurred near the Mediterranean coastal city of Al Hoceima, resulting in over 600 fatalities.
Friday’s earthquake had repercussions felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria, as confirmed by the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere and Algeria’s Civil Defense agency, which oversees emergency response.
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