At least, 1037 people died in a powerful earthquake that struck Morocco on Friday night, causing widespread damage and panic in Marrakech, a tourist Mecca, and several other cities, according to a new official report.
The Moroccan Centre for Scientific and Technical Research (CNRST) said the epicentre of the quake, recorded at 23:11 local time (22:11 GMT), was located in the province of Al-Haouz, south-west of the city of Marrakech, a popular destination for foreign tourists.
The earthquake killed 820 people and injured 672, 205 of them seriously, the Ministry of the Interior said in a statement. The previous toll was 632 dead and 329 injured.
More than a third of the deaths (394) were recorded in Al-Haouz, the epicentre of the quake, and in Taroudant (271) further south, the same source said.
This is the most powerful earthquake to hit the kingdom to date.
According to images reproduced by the media and on social networks and witnesses, the earthquake caused extensive damage in several towns.
Images showed part of a minaret collapsing on the famous Jemaa el-Fna square, the beating heart of Marrakech, injuring two people.
An AFP correspondent saw hundreds of people flocking to the city’s iconic square to spend the night for fear of aftershocks. Some had blankets, others were sleeping on the ground.
“We were walking around Jemaa el-Fna when the earth started to shake. We’re safe and sound, but I’m still in shock. At least ten members of my family died in Ijoukak (rural commune of Al-Haouz, editor’s note). I can’t believe it, because no more than two days ago I was with them”, Houda Outassaf, a resident of the town she met in the square, told AFP.
Lucky to be alive
Mimi Theobald, a 25-year-old English tourist, was about to have dessert on the terrace of a restaurant with some friends “when the tables started shaking and the dishes started flying, and we panicked”.
“Afterwards, we tried to go to our hotel to collect our luggage and passports because our flight was scheduled for tomorrow, but it was impossible because our hotel is located in the Medina. There was debris everywhere, so it wasn’t very safe. It’s the first time we’ve experienced an earthquake. When the adrenalin wore off, we realised how lucky we were to be alive”, she adds.
In addition to Marrakech, the tremor was felt in Rabat, Casablanca, Agadir and Essaouira, causing panic among the population. Many people took to the streets of these cities, fearing that their homes would collapse, according to images posted on social networks.
In photos and videos posted by Internet users, large sections of debris can be seen in the streets of Marrakech’s Medina. But also cars crushed by stones.
“I was in bed when everything started shaking (…) I went out into the street half-naked and went straight to my riads. It was total chaos, a real catastrophe, madness”, Frenchman Michaël Bizet, 43, owner of traditional houses in the old town of Marrakech, told AFP by phone.
Screaming and crying
The regional blood transfusion centre in Marrakech called on residents to go to its premises on Saturday to donate blood for the injured.
“It was like a river bursting its banks. The screams and cries were unbearable”, said another resident, Fayssal Badour, 58.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “shocked” by the events and offered France’s help in a message on X (formerly Twitter).
Other countries that sent their condolences included Germany, Spain, Russia, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “gave instructions (…) to provide all necessary assistance to the Moroccan people”, referring to “preparations to send an aid team to the area”, according to a statement from his office.
The head of the Italian government, Giorgia Meloni, expressed Italy’s “willingness to support Morocco in this emergency situation”.
Earlier, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences to Morocco, saying he was “extremely saddened by the loss of life”.
On 24 February 2004, an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale shook the province of Al Hoceima, 400 km north-east of Rabat, killing 628 people.
And on 29 February 1960, a magnitude 5.7 earthquake destroyed Agadir, on the country’s west coast, killing nearly 15,000 people – a third of the city’s population.