A powerful earthquake struck near Morocco’s High Atlas mountains late this past Friday, killing “at least” 296 people, destroying buildings, and forcing residents of nearby cities to evacuate.
The Interior Ministry stated that the figure represents an initial death toll, with 153 individuals also reported injured. A local official noted that the majority of fatalities occurred in mountainous areas that are difficult to access.
Residents of Marrakech, the closest major city to the epicenter, reported that several buildings in the historic old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, had crumbled.
Local television broadcasts displayed images of a toppled mosque minaret, with debris strewn over crushed cars.
The Pan-Arab news channel, al-Arabiya, relayed that five members of a single family were killed, according to anonymous local sources.
In a televised statement about the death toll, the Interior Ministry urged citizens to remain calm, announcing that the earthquake affected the provinces of Al Haouz, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, Azilal, Chichaoua, and Taroudant.
Montasir Itri, a resident in the mountainous village of Asni close to the epicenter, reported extensive damage to most homes in the area.
“Our neighbors are trapped beneath the debris, and villagers are vigorously working to rescue them using whatever resources are available locally,” he remarked.
Further to the west, in the vicinity of Taroudant, educator Hamid Afkar recounted fleeing his residence as aftershocks rattled the region following the primary tremor.
“The earth shook for about 20 seconds. Doors opened and shut by themselves as I rushed downstairs from the second floor,” he narrated.
Morocco’s geophysical institute reported that the earthquake originated in the Ighil region of the High Atlas, registering a magnitude of 7.2. Conversely, the U.S. Geological Survey assessed the tremor’s magnitude at 6.8, indicating it occurred at a relatively shallow depth of 18.5 km (11.5 miles).
Ighil, characterized by its mountainous terrain and small agricultural villages, is situated about 70 km (43 miles) southwest of Marrakech. The seismic event occurred shortly after 11 p.m. (22:00 GMT).
This earthquake marks Morocco’s most fatal since a 2004 shake near Al Hoceima in the northern Rif mountains claimed the lives of over 600 individuals.
In Marrakech, several houses in the congested old city have crumbled, and individuals are strenuously clearing wreckage manually as they anticipate the arrival of heavy machinery, conveyed local citizen Id Waaziz Hassan.
Footage of the ancient city barrier depicted significant fissures in certain sections, with fragments having fallen, leaving debris scattered across the streets.
Another local, Brahim Himmi, witnessed ambulances emerging from the historic core, amidst numerous damaged building facades. He noted a pervasive sense of fear, with many opting to remain outdoors, apprehensive of potential aftershocks.
Houda Hafsi, a 43-year-old resident, recounted her harrowing experience: “The chandelier plummeted from the ceiling and I dashed outside. Currently, I am on the street with my children, engulfed in fear.”
Meanwhile, Dalila Fahem reported structural cracks in her dwelling and damage to her furnishings, adding, “Thankfully, I had not retired for the night yet.”