CENTRAL MOROCCO- A devastating earthquake registering a magnitude of 6.8 has rocked central Morocco, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 1,000 lives and causing extensive damage across several regions. The quake occurred late on Friday, at 23:11 local time (22:11 GMT), prompting residents to flee their homes in panic. The tremors were felt across the country, from Casablanca to Marrakesh, where numerous buildings have been reduced to rubble or suffered significant damage.
In response to the disaster, the royal palace has announced a three-day period of national mourning. The palace also confirmed that the military will be mobilized to assist in rescue efforts and to provide essential supplies such as clean drinking water, food, tents, and blankets to the affected regions. Many of the victims are thought to be located in remote mountainous areas, making rescue efforts challenging.
The earthquake’s epicenter was pinpointed to the High Atlas Mountains, approximately 71km (44 miles) southwest of Marrakesh. Rescue operations are ongoing, with many individuals still believed to be trapped under the rubble. Several bodies have already been recovered from the wreckage. Marrakesh hospitals are dealing with a surge of injured individuals, and authorities are urging residents to donate blood to aid in the medical response.
The interior ministry of Morocco has reported fatalities in the provinces and municipalities of al-Haouz, Marrakesh, Ouarzazate, Azilal, Chichaoua, and Taroudant, with over 1,200 people injured. In Marrakesh, several buildings have collapsed. There is particularly severe damage in parts of the Medina, a Unesco World Heritage site. The historic Kutubiyya mosque, a popular tourist attraction, was also surrounded by dust from the wreckage. Additionally, the Jemaa el Fnaa mosque partially collapsed.
One resident, Rashid Ben Arabi, recounted his frantic drive to the town of Amizmiz – about 56km (35 miles) from Marrakesh – to check on his parents following the earthquake. He described scenes of chaos and panic as people fled the city under the cover of darkness due to a power outage. He found his parents safe but sleeping in the street, as the government had warned against reentering homes due to the risk of aftershocks. Indeed, a 4.9 magnitude aftershock was recorded just 19 minutes after the initial quake.
The full extent of the damage in remote mountain villages remains unknown, but it is expected to be extensive. The quake’s epicenter in the High Atlas Mountains was relatively shallow, and tremors were reportedly felt as far away as the capital, Rabat, some 350km distant, as well as in Casablanca and Essaouira. Buildings in remote mountain villages near the epicenter may not have withstood the quake, and it may take time to assess the casualties in these isolated areas.
The earthquake was also felt in neighboring Algeria, but no damage or casualties were reported there. Despite strained relations with Morocco, Algeria has offered to open its airspace for humanitarian and medical flights.