Late Friday, a devastating earthquake rocked the High Atlas mountains of Morocco, resulting in the deaths of at least 632 individuals and causing significant damage to buildings. The Interior Ministry reported that the preliminary death toll also included 153 injured individuals. The majority of the fatalities occurred in hard-to-reach mountain regions, according to a local official.
The tremor was felt strongly in Marrakech, the closest major city to the quake’s epicenter. Residents reported collapsed buildings in the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Local television broadcasts displayed images of a toppled mosque minaret, with debris strewn across crushed vehicles. The Pan-Arab al-Arabiya news channel reported the death of five members of a single family, citing anonymous local sources.
The Interior Ministry, in a televised statement, urged residents to remain calm. The quake affected the provinces of Al Haouz, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, Azilal, Chichaoua, and Taroudant. Montasir Itri, a resident of the mountain village of Asni near the epicenter, reported extensive damage to most houses in the area.
“Our neighbors are under the rubble and people are working hard to rescue them using available means in the village,” Itri said. Further west, near Taroudant, teacher Hamid Afkar reported fleeing his home due to aftershocks following the initial quake. “The earth shook for about 20 seconds. Doors opened and shut by themselves as I rushed downstairs from the second floor,” he recounted.
The quake, which struck in the Ighil area of the High Atlas, was reported by Morocco’s geophysical center to have a magnitude of 7.2. The US Geological Survey, however, estimated the quake’s magnitude at 6.8 and noted it occurred at a relatively shallow depth of 11.5 miles. Ighil, a mountainous region with small farming villages, is located approximately 40 miles southwest of Marrakech. The quake occurred just after 11 p.m.
This earthquake is the deadliest to hit Morocco since a 2004 tremor near Al Hoceima in the northern Rif mountains, which resulted in over 600 fatalities. In Marrakech, some houses in the densely populated old city collapsed, and residents were working diligently to clear debris while waiting for heavy machinery, according to resident Id Waaziz Hassan.
Footage from the medieval city wall revealed significant cracks in one section and parts that had fallen, with rubble scattered on the street. Another Marrakech resident, Brahim Himmi, reported seeing ambulances leaving the old town and noted extensive damage to many building facades. He mentioned that people were frightened and were staying outside in anticipation of another quake.
“The chandelier fell from the ceiling and I ran out. I’m still in the road with my children and we’re scared,” said Houda Hafsi, 43, in Marrakech. Another woman, Dalila Fahem, reported cracks in her house and damage to her furniture. “Fortunately I hadn’t gone to sleep yet,” she said.
People in Rabat, about 220 miles north of Ighil, and in the coastal town of Imsouane, about 180 km to its west, also fled their homes, fearing a stronger quake, according to eyewitnesses. Videos shared on social media of the immediate aftermath of the quake showed people fearfully running out of a shopping center, restaurants, and apartment buildings and congregating outside.