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The historic district of Marrakech, including the old city, was one of the regions affected by a seismic event registering a magnitude of at least 6.8. This earthquake was centered in the High Atlas mountains.
Morocco Earthquake: A National Tragedy With Over 2,000 Dead and Thousands More Injured
A massive 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Morocco on September 11, 2023, causing widespread destruction and loss of life. The epicenter was located in the High Atlas Mountains, approximately 70 km south of Marrakech, but the shaking was felt as far away as Rabat and Algeria. As of September 11, Moroccan authorities have confirmed that at least 2,012 people were killed in the disaster, with over 2,000 more injured. The death toll is tragically expected to rise as rescuers struggle to reach remote mountain villages that were hardest hit.
Extensive Damage Across Southern Morocco
The powerful tremors caused extensive damage across southern Morocco, collapsing buildings, damaging infrastructure, and triggering landslides in rural mountain areas. Parts of the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque minaret in Marrakech crumbled, and many old city residences sustained severe structural damage. The famous Djemaa el-Fna market square was so unsafe after the quake that locals fled to take shelter in open areas.
Hospitals in Marrakech and other major cities quickly became overwhelmed with victims suffering broken bones, internal injuries, and crush trauma. Search and rescue teams have been deployed across the affected provinces of Marrakech, El Kelaa, Chichaoua, Al Haouz, Taroudant, and Tiznit. But their efforts have been hindered by blocked and damaged roads in the mountain villages. Helicopters and heavy construction equipment are being brought in to clear paths for emergency vehicles.
Morocco Mobilizes Disaster Response
King Mohammed VI has authorized deployment of the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces to oversee urgent disaster response. Military transport planes, helicopters, drones, and ground vehicles have been sent to provide vital supplies like drinking water, blankets, tents, and food to impacted communities.
The Moroccan government has declared a three-day period of national mourning, with flags at half-mast in memory of the lives lost. All available rescue workers, including police, firefighters, healthcare professionals, and the military are contributing to search efforts.
International aid and pledges of support have also been arriving to assist Morocco. Neighboring Algeria has offered humanitarian resources despite recent diplomatic tensions between the countries. France, Spain, Turkey, and other nations have also expressed sympathies and readiness to provide relief aid.
Vulnerability to Earthquakes
Unfortunately, Morocco's building infrastructure lacks seismic reinforcements that could prevent collapse during strong earthquakes. Building codes and engineering standards are not designed to withstand heavy ground shaking. This vulnerability of structures led to the high death toll, according to earthquake experts.
The region where the earthquake struck was considered moderate risk, not high risk, for seismic activity. But the mammoth size of this rare quake proved catastrophic. During smaller earthquakes, Moroccan architecture typically sustains only minor cracking or damage. Safety officials are re-evaluating nationwide earthquake preparedness in light of this disaster.
Lingering Aftershocks Keep Citizens on Edge
Hundreds of aftershocks have continued rattling Morocco in the days since the initial earthquake. Fearing additional building collapses, many residents have been afraid to re-enter homes and businesses. Tent encampments and temporary shelters have popped up in hard-hit cities as citizens elect to sleep outdoors until the aftershocks abate.
Seismologists say aftershocks could persist for weeks following the main shock. Each tremor triggers panic as memories of the tragedy remain fresh. Psychologists have advised earthquake survivors to seek mental health services, as many will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in the aftermath.
Previous Deadly Morocco Earthquakes
The 2023 event ranks as the deadliest earthquake in Morocco since at least 1790. Over the last century, several other seismic catastrophes have struck the region:
- 1960 Agadir earthquake - Measuring 5.8 magnitude, this quake left 15,000 dead and 25,000 injured in coastal Agadir.
- 2004 Al Hoceima earthquake - A 6.3 magnitude tremor that struck the northern Rif region, killing 628 people.
- 2022 M'zouda earthquake - Just this March, a magnitude 5.3 event near Al Hoceima killed one and injured dozens more.
Morocco sits along the boundary of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates, a location prone to seismic activity and occasional large earthquakes. But since robust building codes are a recent development, the destruction of these rare but inevitable quakes has always proved severe. With proper earthquake preparedness, future loss of life can be mitigated.
Long Road to Recovery Ahead
As search and rescue transitions to longer-term rebuilding efforts, Morocco faces immense challenges restoring transportation links, infrastructure, and healthcare access across the earthquake zone. Psychological recovery will also require time for those impacted and bereaved. The government has hired structural engineers to evaluate damaged buildings and historical sites.
With many now homeless and jobless, public welfare agencies are working overtime to provide food, water, and temporary housing services. Schools and local businesses have been shut down indefinitely pending repairs. Officials have not yet projected the full economic impact, but it will likely be in the billions of dollars.
While the earthquake's aftermath will linger for years, Morocco has received global support and is already making progress reconnecting remote areas to desperately needed aid. The determined Moroccan spirit that built ancient marvels like Marrakech will surely prevail again in rebuilding after this national tragedy.
This report includes contributions from Agence France-Presse, Reuters, and the Associated Press.
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