A devastating earthquake struck Morocco on Friday night, causing widespread destruction and claiming the lives of over 2,000 people in the High Atlas region, close to the historic city of Marrakech.
The Moroccan interior ministry reported on Saturday evening that the earthquake had resulted in at least 2,012 fatalities and left another 2,059 individuals injured. This powerful earthquake, occurring just after 11 pm, inflicted the most significant damage in the provinces of Al Haouz, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, Azilal, Chichaoua, and Taroudant. The tremors were felt as far away as Rabat and Casablanca on the Atlantic coast, prompting some residents to evacuate their homes and spend the night outdoors.
Rescue teams have been working tirelessly to search for survivors amidst the wreckage of homes in remote mountain villages in the High Atlas, where the majority of casualties have been reported. Landslides triggered by the earthquake have hindered access to certain areas, prompting authorities in Marrakech to make an urgent appeal for blood donations. In response, the government has declared three days of national mourning, and the military has been deployed to assist in rescue efforts and the distribution of aid.
According to the World Health Organization, the earthquake has affected over 300,000 people in Marrakech and its surrounding areas.
This earthquake, which Morocco’s geophysical center identified as originating in the Ighil area of the High Atlas with a magnitude of 7.2, stands as the most powerful to strike the country since the 2004 tremor in al Hoceima in the northern Rif mountains, which claimed 600 lives. The US Geological Survey, however, recorded the recent quake’s magnitude at 6.8.
Video footage captured the scene of destruction in the old town of Marrakech, where buildings, including a mosque minaret, had crumbled, covering streets with debris. Fearing aftershocks, hundreds of locals and tourists evacuated their hotels and homes, seeking refuge in Marrakech’s renowned Jemaa al-Fnaa square.
Marrakech’s old city center, featuring markets, historic houses, museums, and mosques, holds UNESCO World Heritage status, and reports suggest that a portion of the medieval city wall surrounding the center has sustained damage.
Montasir Itri, a resident of Asni, a mountain village near the epicenter, recounted significant damage to many homes, with neighbors trapped under the rubble.
Beyond the immediate devastation and loss of life, concerns arise about the earthquake’s impact on tourism. Marrakech, a favored travel destination, was poised to surpass pre-COVID levels of visitors this year, with Morocco’s tourism ministry projecting a record 14 million tourists for 2023.
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