The damage ranged from communities in the Atlas Mountains to the ancient city of Marrakech. The entire toll however remained unknown as rescuers battled to reach the isolated mountain towns most severely affected along routes littered with boulders.
The earthquake roused everyone up, and they fled into the streets in shock and fear. People gathered in the streets of Marrakech late at night, frightened to enter buildings that might still be unstable, as seen on state television.
A man claimed he was in a nearby flat building when plates and wall hangings started falling, throwing people off their chairs and off their feet. A woman said that an “intense vibration” caused her to leave her home.
The magnitude-6.8 earthquake, which devastated historic cities made of stone and masonry that was not built to withstand quakes, was the strongest to strike Morocco in 120 years.
Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, explained the issue: “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.
I anticipate the final death toll to rise into the thousands. Similar to any major earthquake, there will certainly be aftershocks that will make it harder to conduct search and rescue operations.
The famed Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, which was constructed in the 12th century, sustained damage, though the degree was not immediately known. The minaret’s 69-meter (226-foot) height has earned it the moniker “roof of Marrakech.” Videos of damage to some of the well-known red walls that encircle the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, were also posted online by Moroccans.
According to the Moroccan Interior Ministry’s early-morning report on Saturday, there were at least 820 recorded death, most of whom were in Marrakech and five nearby regions. There were also 672 injuries. The government reported that 205 of the injured were critically hurt.
Rescuers continued their search for survivors into the night in the gloom, dust, and debris.
The mayor of a town close to the epicentre of the earthquake reported to Moroccan news outlet 2M that some homes in other towns had partially or completely fallen and that roads and electricity had been cut off in several areas.
The mayor of Talat N’Yaaqoub, Abderrahim Ait Daoud, stated that while efforts are being made to clear roads in Al Haouz Province to give access for ambulances and help to those in need, it would take some time to determine the full extent of the devastation due to the distances between mountain settlements.
The Moroccan military and emergency services mobilised relief efforts to the damaged areas, however highways leading to the mountain region around the epicentre were congested with cars and obstructed by crumbled rocks, delaying rescue operations. According to the government news agency MAP, trucks stocked with blankets, camp cots, and lighting supplies were attempting to reach that severely affected area.
Ambulances with sirens blasting and honking cars steered around masses of red rock that resembled Mars and had fallen from the mountainside and obstructed the road as it wound its way from Marrakech to Al Haouz. Red Cross personnel made an effort to move a boulder that was obstructing the two-lane road.
Ambulances and motorcycles whirred by the outskirts of the old city later on Saturday morning in Marrakech, where most activities were as usual. Roadblocks were crossed by tourists and onlookers as they took pictures of the cracked clay orange wall fragments and dust on the pavement and roadway.
As condolences flowed in from countries throughout Europe, a Group of 20 summit in India, countries throughout Europe, the Mideast, and beyond, world leaders volunteered to send in help or rescue workers.
One of those offering assistance was Turkey’s president, whose nation lost tens of thousands of citizens in a devastating earthquake earlier this year. Both France and Germany, which have sizable populations of people with Moroccan ancestry, offered their assistance.