Morocco is in mourning as the death toll from a massive earthquake that struck the country soars to 2,000. The quake, measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale, struck on Friday and has been described as the deadliest in more than sixty years.
The epicentre of the earthquake was located below a cluster of remote mountainous villages, approximately 45 miles south of Marrakech. However, the impact of the quake was felt as far away as the country’s northern coast.
The government has reported that 2,122 people have been killed, with over 2,421 injured, many of them critically. As the rescue efforts continue, a significant number of victims are feared to be trapped in remote villages, necessitating the deployment of military forces and emergency services to reach these areas. The impact of the earthquake has left many people homeless, forcing them to sleep outside on pavements and in squares in Marrakech due to fears of returning to their damaged homes.
Faced with this disaster, King Mohammed VI of Morocco chaired an emergency disaster response meeting on Saturday. In response to the crisis, the king has declared three days of national mourning, and civil protection units have been mobilized to increase stocks in blood banks and ensure the supply of essential resources such as water, food, tents, and blankets to affected areas.
The extent of the devastation caused by the earthquake is palpable, with survivors recounting terrifying experiences. Omar Bajjou, who resides in a village near Asni, located at the foot of the Atlas mountains, 30 miles south of Marrakech, describes how the force of the earthquake threw him and his wife out of bed, leaving them traumatized.
He stated that his initial thought was that an airplane had somehow fallen on the roof of their building. Upon fleeing outside, chaos was found in their village. He stated that all of the surrounding houses, particularly the mud-brick ones, had crumbled, and the others had huge cracks in them, fatal cracks, like they could collapse at any moment. There was dust everywhere, and the sound of screams. Bajjou and the other villagers began to try to dig their neighbours out from under their homes. They managed to rescue several people who were buried under the rubble, but others were already dead. In total, there were five dead from their building. The residents of the village remained outside for two days without water or electricity, too scared to return to their homes for fear of further aftershocks or crumbling buildings.
Samia Errazzouki, an expert in the history and governance of the Moroccan state at Stanford University in California, stated that roads and access to this region are already difficult, before you compound that with difficulties like rubble or problems with the roads. It will take a miracle to get immediate aid there. Members of Morocco’s marginalised Amazigh community, sometimes known as Berbers, live among the villages in the earthquake zone. These regions have historically been hit with earthquakes, but they have also been marginalised.
Several countries including Israel, France, Spain, Italy and the US have offered aid. Neighbouring Algeria, which has had difficult relations with Morocco, opened its airspace, which had been closed for two years, to flights carrying humanitarian aid and the injured.
The Red Cross said repairing the damage wrought by the powerful earthquake could take years. Unesco pledged to help repair damage to heritage in historic Marrakech, but the prospect of rebuilding in inaccessible remote towns and villages appeared even more challenging.
Philippe Vernant, a specialist in active tectonics, particularly in Morocco, at the University of Montpellier, stated that even though the quake did not hit in Morocco’s most active seismological region, aftershocks could be expected.
The prime minister of Morocco’s cross-strait neighbour Spain, Pedro Sánchez, expressed his “solidarity and support to the people of Morocco in the wake of this terrible earthquake … Spain is with the victims of this tragedy,” he said.
French president, Emmanuel Macron, said he was “devastated” and that “France stands ready to help with first aid”. Algerian state television broadcast a message from the presidency, declaring that the state would open its airspace to allow the transport of humanitarian aid to Morocco as well as offering aid resources, a significant shift after the rupture in diplomatic relations between the two nations that has lasted for two years.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report