A powerful earthquake in Morocco has killed more than 600 people : Morocco Government

Late on Friday night, Morocco was struck by an uncommon and potent earthquake, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives and significant structural damage across various regions, from remote villages in the Atlas Mountains to the historic city of Marrakech.

As of Saturday morning, Morocco’s Interior Ministry reported a tragic death toll of at least 632 individuals, with the majority of casualties occurring in Marrakech and five neighboring provinces close to the epicenter of the quake. Additionally, 329 people sustained injuries, with these numbers anticipated to rise as ongoing search and rescue efforts progress into more remote areas.

Television broadcasts in Morocco showcased the somber aftermath, as many residents remained outdoors, fearful of potential aftershocks. Anxious families congregated in the streets, some clutching children, blankets, or personal belongings.

Under the illumination of their reflective yellow vests, emergency responders diligently scoured the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors. The earthquake left behind scenes of devastation, including a gaping hole in a residential structure and a car nearly buried under debris from a collapsed building. Among the scattered stones and debris, items such as baskets, buckets, and clothing could be seen amid the ruins of another building.

Reports from Moroccan media indicated that the renowned 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, a cherished landmark, had sustained damage, although the full extent remained unclear. Its towering 69-meter (226-foot) minaret, often referred to as the “roof of Marrakech,” is a notable feature of the city.

In addition to the mosque, social media posts revealed damage to sections of the iconic red walls that encircle Marrakech’s historic Old City, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The head of a town near the earthquake’s epicenter shared that several homes in neighboring communities had partially or entirely collapsed. Furthermore, power outages and road blockages hindered response efforts in some areas. Abderrahim Ait Daoud, the leader of the town of Talat N’Yaaqoub, explained that authorities were striving to clear roadways in Al Haouz Province to facilitate the passage of ambulances and aid to affected populations. Nonetheless, the vast distances between mountain villages meant that assessing the full scope of the damage would require time.

Local media reported that roads leading to the mountainous region surrounding the epicenter became congested with vehicles and obstructed by fallen rocks, further impeding rescue operations.

Al Haouz Province is renowned for its picturesque High Atlas landscapes and Amazigh villages nestled into mountainsides.

Messages of sympathy and support began pouring in from around the world on Saturday. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed condolences on social media, while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, currently hosting the Group of 20 summit, offered assistance to Morocco during this challenging time. A spokesperson for the United Nations also conveyed the organization’s readiness to aid the Moroccan government in assisting affected populations.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the earthquake initially registered a magnitude of 6.8 and struck at 11:11 p.m. (2211 GMT), producing several seconds of intense shaking. The USGS also reported a magnitude-4.9 aftershock occurring 19 minutes later.

The epicenter of Friday’s seismic event was located near the town of Ighil in Al Haouz Province, approximately 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) south of Marrakech.

While the USGS measured the epicenter’s depth at 18 kilometers (11 miles) below the Earth’s surface, Morocco’s seismic agency placed it at 11 kilometers (7 miles) deep. Shallow earthquakes like this one tend to be more destructive.

Initial reports indicated extensive damage and significant loss of life throughout the Marrakech-Safi region, home to a diverse mix of cities, small towns, and open landscapes, with a population of 4,520,569 according to state figures.

Earthquakes are relatively infrequent in North Africa, and Lahcen Mhanni, Head of the Seismic Monitoring and Warning Department at the National Institute of Geophysics, noted that this earthquake was the most powerful ever recorded in the mountainous region.

The last major earthquake in Morocco occurred in 1960, with a magnitude 5.8 tremor striking near the city of Agadir, resulting in numerous fatalities. This event prompted changes in construction regulations in Morocco, although many buildings, particularly in rural areas, may not have been constructed to withstand such seismic forces.

In 2004, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake near the Mediterranean coastal city of Al Hoceima claimed the lives of over 600 people.

Friday’s earthquake was felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria, as reported by the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere and Algeria’s Civil Defense agency, which oversees emergency response.

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