RABAT, Sept. 9 (Xinhua) — A devastating earthquake, the deadliest in decades, struck Morocco Friday night, claiming the lives of more than 1,300 people.
The 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck the High Atlas mountain range shortly after 11:00 p.m. local time on Friday (2200 GMT) at a relatively shallow depth of 18.5 kilometers, as reported by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The epicenter was located approximately 70 kilometers southwest of Marrakesh, the fourth-largest city in the North African kingdom and a popular tourist destination.
The earthquake has claimed the lives of 1,305 people and injured at least 1,832, with 1,220 of them in serious condition, according to the latest update from the country’s Interior Ministry on Saturday. After the devastating earthquake, Morocco declared three days of national mourning on Saturday, and flags will be flown at half-mast on all public facilities during the national mourning.
Morocco has not experienced a disaster of this magnitude since 2004 when a 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit the port city of Al Hoceima, killing around 630 people. The Moroccan state TV said most casualties in Morocco’s Friday night earthquake were from the remote and inaccessible mountainous regions near the epicenter, with damaged roads further hindering rescue efforts.
The Royal Moroccan Armed Forces issued a warning urging residents to remain vigilant and take necessary precautions in light of potential aftershocks. “We emphasize the importance of exercising caution and implementing safety measures due to the potential for aftershocks,” the military wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Fearing aftershocks, many Moroccans spent Friday night outdoors as witnessed by Xinhua reporters who were in Ouarzazate, about 190 km southeast of Marrakesh. Following the earthquake, the Marrakesh Regional Blood Transfusion Center promptly issued a call to all citizens, particularly those who lived in Marrakesh, to donate blood to help the injured, Morocco’s official news agency Maghreb Arabe Press (MAP) reported.
It added that residents in the city had flocked to the blood center since early Saturday morning to donate blood, “in an exceptional show of solidarity.”
Friday night’s earthquake was particularly potent for this region, which rarely experiences such events and is typically unprepared for such a disaster. The USGS reported that within a 500-km radius of the earthquake’s epicenter, there hasn’t been a single earthquake of magnitude 6 or higher since 1900, and only nine earthquakes with a magnitude of 5 or higher have been documented nearby. This worries seismologists because the region’s buildings are not well-prepared for strong earthquakes.
Videos and pictures circulated online have shown many collapsed buildings near the epicenter, with people trapped under rubble awaiting the arrival of heavy machinery for their rescue. On Saturday, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said that responding to Morocco’s deadliest earthquake in decades could be a protracted effort, possibly extending over months if not years.
“We are mobilizing now to support the Moroccan Red Crescent,” Hossam Elsharkawi, IFRC’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement. “We are looking at many months if not years of response.”
The earthquake caused significant damage in the old city of Marrakesh, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. In addition to human casualties, the earthquake also ruined several structures and parts of the city walls, as witnessed by Xinhua reporters.
Some historic red walls that encircle the ancient city center, created in the early 12th century, crumbled due to the powerful tremor. At the same time, squares and traffic roundabouts were crowded with people seeking refuge.
Some local residents in Marrakesh on Saturday prepared makeshift beds as they braced for an overnight stay in the open. According to local reports, the earthquake’s tremors were also felt in Rabat’s capital, some 350 km north of the High Atlas mountains.
On Saturday, the Red Cross Society of China (RCSC) announced that it would provide the Moroccan Red Crescent with 200,000 U.S. dollars in cash as emergency humanitarian assistance to assist in its rescue operations.
The RCSC said it would keep abreast of the relief needs in Morocco and pledged to offer assistance to the best of its ability.
The Cairo-based Arab League offered its condolences to Morocco soon after the earthquake, hoping the country will quickly overcome the crisis. Israel, which normalized ties with Morocco in 2020, also offered its condolences and assistance to the North African kingdom.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant held a phone call with his Moroccan counterpart to express Israel’s desire to assist the earthquake-stricken country “as much as is required.”
Türkiye, which suffered massive earthquakes in February, said it was “ready to provide all kinds of support to heal the wounds,” its state-run Anadolu news agency reported Saturday, citing the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
Other countries offering condolences or assistance include Iran, Egypt, France, Germany, the United States, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, etc.