Massive earthquake kills over 2,000 in Morocco, thousands more injured

6.8 magnitude earthquake devastates Marrakesh, killing over 2,000 people and injuring thousands more.

By The Associated Press and World Israel News Staff

A rare, powerful earthquake struck Morocco, sending people racing from their beds into the streets and toppling buildings in mountainous villages and ancient cities not built to withstand such force. More than 2,000 people were killed, and the toll was expected to rise as rescuers struggled Saturday to reach hardest-hit remote areas where the dead were laid to rest even as desperate efforts were underway to save those trapped.

The magnitude-6.8 quake, the biggest to hit the North African country in 120 years, sent people fleeing their homes in terror and disbelief late Friday. One man said dishes and wall hangings began raining down, and people were knocked off their feet. The enormity of the destruction came into view in the daylight.

The quake brought down walls made from stone and masonry not constructed to endure quakes, covering whole communities with rubble and leaving residents picking their way precariously through remains. Rescuers worked through the night to find survivors buried in the dusty ruins.

A tent typically used for celebrations was erected for shelter in the center of the impoverished mountain community of Moulay Brahim, where homes made of clay and brick were largely left uninhabitable. Fathers sobbed into phones telling loved ones about losing their children. Bodies covered with blankets lay in the health center next to a mosque as doctors pulled shards from people’s feet and treated surface wounds.

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“There’s nothing to do but pray,” said Hamza Lamghani, who lost five of his closest friends.

People could be seen on state TV clustering in the streets of historic Marrakesh, afraid to go back inside buildings that might still be unstable. Many wrapped themselves in blankets as they tried to sleep outside.

Marrakesh’s famous Koutoubia Mosque, built in the 12th century, was damaged, 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 old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

At least 2,012 people died, mostly in Marrakesh and five provinces near the quake’s epicenter, and another 2,059 people were injured, Morocco’s Interior Ministry reported Saturday morning. The ministry wrote that 721 of the injured were in critical condition.

“The problem is that where destructive earthquakes are rare, buildings are simply not constructed robustly enough to cope with strong ground shaking, so many collapse, resulting in high casualties,” said Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London. “I would expect the final death toll to climb into the thousands once more is known. As with any big quake, aftershocks are likely, which will lead to further casualties and hinder search and rescue.”

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In a sign of the huge scale of the disaster, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI ordered the armed forces to specialized search and rescue teams and a surgical field hospital, according to a statement from the military.

Israel, which formally opened ties with Morocco in December 2020, announced Saturday night that it will be sending a delegation of emergency workers to the affected area.

“Following the tragic earthquake in Morocco, the Prime Minister has instructed all government bodies and forces to provide any necessary assistance to the people of Morocco, including preparations for sending an aid delegation to the area,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.

“The Prime Minister said that the people of Israel stand with our friends, the people of Morocco, during this difficult hour and pray for their well-being, and that we will help in any way needed.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog offered his condolences to King Mohammed VI and the victims’ families, tweeting: “Our hearts are with the Moroccan people. On behalf of the people of Israel, I send deepest condolences to His Majesty King Mohammed VI & all the people of Morocco for the tragic loss of life in last night’s earthquake. We pray for the injured. Israel is ready to help as needed.”

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Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (Likud) spoke with his Moroccan counterpart, Abdellatif Loudiyi, to coordinate Israeli assistance.

“A significant part of the Abraham Accords is our commitment to stand by our partners during difficult times. The State of Israel is prepared to assist the Kingdom of Morocco,” Gallant said in a statement following the call.