Rescuers desperately search for survivors after deadly Moroccan earthquake

A view shows a damaged building on the road between Amizmiz and Ouirgane, after a strong earthquake in Morocco, September 9, 2023 (REUTERS/Ahmed El Jechtimi) (STRINGER/)

Rescuers were desperately trying to locate the victims on Saturday. survivors of a strong earthquake in central Morocco, while the number of deaths exceeded 2,000 and international search teams were waiting for local authorities to give the green light to deploy.

The earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.8, shook the Atlas Mountains at 11:11 p.m. on Friday, according to preliminary data from the United States Geological Survey. collapsing houses on sleeping families. Videos spread on social media showed Marrakesh’s largest minaret swaying as people below turned and ran; In other parts of the city, with the air thick with dust, residents covered their mouths and reached out to each other for support as they navigated narrow alleys in the dark.

The epicenter was located in the remote and historically neglected province of al-Houzabout 44 kilometers south of Marrakech. It was the strongest earthquake to hit the area in more than a century.and the shock was felt hundreds of kilometers away, in Casablanca, Rabat and Fez.

A total of 2,012 people were killed and another 2,059 injured, according to state media. According to experts, The death toll is likely to rise sharply.

Mobile phone networks in the worst affected areas had stopped working, leaving relatives across the country and around the world anxiously awaiting news.

Several people work next to the damage caused in the historic city of Marrakech on September 9, 2023 (REUTERS/Abdelhak Balhaki) (ABDELHAK BALHAKI/)

On Saturday morning, authorities warned of possible replicas. “Everyone is panicking,” said Rachida Bouanani, a teacher in Marrakech. “Local authorities have asked people to evacuate their homes. “My neighbors have taken out their money and gold and are asking for forgiveness, they are saying goodbye.”

In squares, parks and sidewalks, families were now camping out in the heat. When Aziz Taki, a local shopkeeper from Marrakech, returned home after the earthquake to look for blankets, there were dead bodies scattered around his neighborhood. He recognized a mother, her young son, and a man who had jumped from his building.

His house, he recalled, looked as if “someone had taken a huge knife and cut the corners.” The four walls had separated. Nearby, a neighbor tripped over the door of his house and collapsed.

“My heart broke,” Taki said. “Imagine that the person dying in front of you was once a neighbor and a friend.”

The first statement from the Royal Palace of Morocco, almost 20 hours after the earthquake, said that King Mohammed VI had chaired an emergency meeting with his cabinet and military officials. Reinforcements for search and rescue teams would be deployed around the epicenter and a fund for public donations would be opened to support the effort, the statement said.

But the vastness of the earthquake zone and the complexity of the terrain made rescue efforts difficult, said Caroline Holt, Director of Disasters, Climate and Crisis at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Although civil society groups were establishing shelters and providing psychological support to those affected, only government troops seemed to be on the front line.

Residents remain outdoors in a square in Marrakech on September 9, 2023 (Fadel Senna/AFP) (FADEL SENNA/)

Some of the most remote areas could only be reached by helicopterHolt said, and the heavy machinery needed to remove debris from roads was difficult to transport in the mountainous region.

“When an earthquake occurs, it is common for roads and routes to be affected, for communication lines, power lines and drinking water pipes to fall,” he explained. “So there is a lot of confusion and a lot of chaos right now.”

On Saturday night, neither the king nor Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch had addressed the nation. All over the world, Foreign allies said they had rescue teams ready to deploy but needed government approval.

“We are just waiting for the green light from Morocco,” an EU official told ThePostspeaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.

Foreign crews have been crucial in saving lives in recent disasters, such as the devastating February earthquake in Turkey and the Beirut port explosion in 2020. But speed is essential. Most successful rescues occur within the first 24 hours of an earthquake. At 72 hours, it is likely that there will be no survivors.

In the earthquake zone there are hundreds of villages whose inhabitants have traditionally received little support from the government, and which are often cut off after snow storms. Roads are now blocked by debris, making it difficult for rescue teams to access the area and for authorities and aid groups to assess the extent of the devastation.

In conversations with friends and family in the city of Ouarzazate, Brahim El Guabli, an adjunct professor at Williams College, said that They reported an earthquake so strong that it was like a raging bull on the roof, or the waves that follow a bomb.

“No one there had witnessed an intensity of such magnitude that we can remember,” he said. “These areas will never be the same again, at least for those of us who know them.”

At least 296 dead and thousands injured left by a powerful 6.9 magnitude earthquake in central Morocco
An official report on Saturday reported more than 2,000 dead from the powerful earthquake that shook Morocco overnight on Friday.

The Biden administration also offered help on Saturday: “The United States stands ready to provide any necessary help as Morocco responds to this tragedy,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the Moroccan people, and we offer our unwavering support and solidarity to our Moroccan partners at this tragic time.”

Speaking at the Group of 20 summit in Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the international community would provide “all possible help.” Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said his country’s military and diplomats were “at the disposal of Morocco.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country established a protectorate in Morocco in 1912 and maintained colonial rule there until 1956, said he was “devastated” by the news and offered help. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was scheduled to go dark in solidarity with Morocco, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo told reporters. The French soccer league said a minute of silence would be observed at upcoming matches to honor the victims.

The earthquake was also felt in Algeria, although no deaths or injuries were reported. The Associated Press reported that the Algerian government offered to reopen its airspace to Morocco to facilitate aid and medical evacuations. It has been closed since 2021, when the nations severed diplomatic ties over a long-running dispute in Western Sahara.

In Marrakech on Saturday, residents lined up outside a blood transfusion center as authorities urged people to donate. On social media, members of the Moroccan national soccer team posted photos of themselves responding to the call in the city of Agadir.

Morocco has been shaken by crises in recent years. The coronavirus pandemic has reduced the influx of visitors to its tourist places, usually full of life, and a combination of drought and rising prices of raw materials has skyrocketed food prices.

People donate blood after the strong earthquake in the historic city of Marrakech on September 9, 2023 (REUTERS/Abdelhak Balhaki) (ABDELHAK BALHAKI/)

According to the World Bank, the poorest 10% of Moroccans, many of whom live near the epicenter of the earthquake, have suffered the most from the impact of inflation.

The extent of damage to historic sites, which attract millions of tourists each year, remained unclear Saturday, with particular concern for Marrakesh’s Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its bustling markets, narrow streets, its Islamic architecture and its perimeter of pink walls.

Since 1900, there have been no earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater within 310 miles of Friday’s tremor in the Atlas Mountains, and only nine earthquakes of magnitude 5 or greater, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Earthquakes of this size in the region are rare but not unexpected”said a statement. The organization also wrote that the population of the affected region “resides in structures that are very vulnerable to seismic shocks.”

Nacer Jabour, a representative of Morocco’s National Institute of Geophysics, told local media that the main shock was “followed by hundreds of aftershocks.”

© The Washington Post 2023