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Powerful quake in Morocco kills more than 2,000 people and damages historic buildings in Marrakech

Casualty figures were expected to rise as the search continues and rescuers reach remote areas following 6.8 magnitude tremor

Quake in Morocco
View of a damaged vehicle and debris in the aftermath of an earthquake in Marrakech, Morocco September 9, 2023 in this screen grab from a social media video in this picture.AL MAGHRIBI AL YOUM (Al Maghribi Al Youm via REUTERS)

A magnitude 6.8 earthquake shook Morocco late Friday night, causing more than 2,000 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of the Interior. Buildings collapsed in the provinces and cities of Al Haouz, Marrakech, Taroudant, Chichaoua, and Ouarzazate, which were the worst-affected by the earthquake. The epicenter was located in Ighil, around 45 miles southwest of Marrakech and at a depth of 18 kilometers (11 miles). The injured are being treated in hospitals, according to the Ministry of the Interior, and the emergency services are searching for survivors among the rubble. The Moroccan authorities have called on citizens to remain calm and have mobilized security and civil protection forces in the affected provinces, as well as resources to inspect and assess the damage.

At least 2,012 people died in the quake, mostly in Marrakech and five provinces near the epicenter, Morocco’s Interior Ministry reported Saturday night. At least another 2,059 people were injured — 1,404 critically — the ministry said.

Residents of Marrakech said that the tremor lasted several minutes and caused damage to buildings — some of which collapsed — and mosques in the medina, the city’s historic quarter. Khalid, a resident of the medina, reported that the minaret of the Bab Aylan Mosque fell to the ground as a result of the earthquake and the entrance to the temple was also damaged. According to another resident of Marrakech, the famous Jemaa-el Fnaa square filled with citizens seeking safety from possible aftershocks, while the authorities prevented people from walking through the narrow streets of the old city.

Damage to UNESCO World Heritage

Moroccan media reported that the 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, one of the city’s most famed landmarks, suffered damage, but the extent was not immediately clear. Its 69-meter (226-foot) minaret is known as the “roof of Marrakech.”

Moroccans also posted videos showing damage to parts of the famous red walls that surround the medina in Marrakech, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The earthquake was felt across almost the entire country and spread panic in the main cities, from north to south. In Rabat, people evacuated their homes and sought safety in the streets, but no structural damage to buildings has been reported in the capital. The Moroccan National Institute of Geophysics said there had been “hundreds of aftershocks,” but most of them had not been powerful enough to be felt. Lahcen Mhanni, Head of the Seismic Monitoring and Warning Department at the institute, told 2M TV that the earthquake was the strongest ever recorded in the mountain region.

The tremor was also felt in several provinces in western Algeria, but authorities said there had been no casualties or damage to buildings. Morocco experiences frequent earthquakes in its northern region due to its position between the African and Eurasian tectonic plates. In 1960, a magnitude 5.8 tremor struck near the Moroccan city of Agadir and caused thousands of deaths.

The Agadir quake prompted changes in construction rules in Morocco, but many buildings, especially rural homes, are not built to withstand such tremors. In 2004, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake near the Mediterranean coastal city of Al Hoceima left more than 600 dead.

Friday’s quake was felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria, according to the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere and Algeria’s Civil Defense agency, which oversees emergency response.

G-20, U.N. offer assistance

Messages of support began to roll in from around the world on Saturday. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz posted condolences on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, currently hosting the Group of 20 summit of the world’s largest economies, wrote that “India is ready to offer all possible assistance to Morocco in this difficult time.”

A U.N. spokesperson said that “the United Nations is ready to assist the government of Morocco in its efforts to assist the impacted population.”

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