Copy of 2023-09-09T091027Z_80339208_RC2U43AKKCJS_RTRMADP_3_MOROCCO-QUAKE-1694256648300
A general view of damage in the historic city of Marrakech, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco, September 9, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

Rescuers dug through rubble for survivors in collapsed houses in remote mountain villages of Morocco on Saturday, in the wake of the country's deadliest earthquake for more than six decades, which killed more than 1,300 people and left many homeless.

The 6.8-magnitude quake struck 72 kilometres (45 miles) southwest of tourist hotspot Marrakech at 11:11 pm (2211 GMT), the US Geological Survey reported.

The quake that struck in Morocco's High Atlas mountains late on Friday night damaged historic buildings in Marrakech - the nearest city to the epicentre - while most of the fatalities were reported in mountainous areas to the south.

The Interior Ministry said 1,305 people had been killed and 1,832 injured by the quake, gauged by the U.S. Geological Survey at a magnitude of 6.8 with an epicentre some 72 km (45 miles) southwest of Marrakech.

Strong tremors were also felt in the coastal cities of Rabat, Casablanca and Essaouira.

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"We felt a very violent tremor, and I realised it was an earthquake," Abdelhak El Amrani, a 33-year-old in Marrakesh, told AFP by telephone.

Residents of Marrakech, the nearest big city to the epicentre, said some buildings had collapsed in the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and local television showed pictures of a fallen mosque minaret with rubble lying on smashed cars. It sent debris flying into narrow alleyways and items tumbling off shelves, according to video posted on social media.

Pan-Arab Al Arabiya news channel reported that five people were killed from one family, citing unnamed local sources.

'Earth shook for 20 seconds'

Montasir Itri, a resident of the mountain village of Asni near the epicentre, said most houses there were damaged. "Our neighbours are under the rubble and people are working hard to rescue them using available means in the village," he said.

Further west, near Taroudant, teacher Hamid Afkar said he had fled his home and there had been aftershocks following the initial quake.

Morocco declares three days' national mourning
Morocco on Saturday declared three days of national mourning after the deadly earthquake overnight killed more than 1,000 people, an announcement from the royal palace said.
"Three days of national mourning have been decided, with flags to fly at half-mast on all public buildings," said a statement published by the official MAP news agency after King Mohamed VI chaired a meeting to discuss the disaster.
The meeting was held after Friday night's earthquake, the deadliest to hit the North African country in decades, hit southwest of tourist hotspot Marrakesh, killing at least 1,037 people and injuring another 1,204, many of them critically.

"The earth shook for about 20 seconds. Doors opened and shut by themselves as I rushed downstairs from the second floor," he said.

Morocco's geophysical centre said the quake struck in the Ighil area of the High Atlas with a magnitude of 7.2. The U.S. Geological Survey put the quake's magnitude at 6.8 and said it was at a relatively shallow depth of 18.5 km (11.5 miles).

Ighil, a mountainous area with small farming villages, is about 70 km (40 miles) southwest of Marrakech. The quake struck just after 11 p.m. (2200 GMT).

Marrakech damage

In Marrakech, some houses in the tightly packed old city had collapsed and people were working hard by hand to remove debris while they waited for heavy equipment, said resident Id Waaziz Hassan.

Footage of the medieval city wall showed big cracks in one section and parts that had fallen, with rubble lying on the street.

Marrakech morocco quake
People gather on a street in Casablanca, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco, September 9, 2023 Image Credit: Reuters

Another Marrakech resident, Brahim Himmi, said he saw ambulances coming out of the old town and many building facades damaged. He said people were frightened and were staying outside in case 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 there, Dalila Fahem, said there were cracks in her house and damage to her furniture. "Fortunately I hadn't gone to sleep yet," she said.

People in Rabat, about 350 km (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 Reuters witnesses.

Videos shared on social media of the immediate aftermath of the quake, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed people fearfully running out of a shopping centre, restaurants and apartment buildings and congregating outside.

Orange alert issued

USGS's PAGER system, which provides preliminary assessments on the impact of earthquakes, issued an orange alert for economic losses, estimating significant damage is likely, and a yellow alert for shaking-related fatalities, indicating some casualties are possible.

USGS said that "the population in this region lives in structures that are highly vulnerable to earthquake shaking."

A CNN report added the US body as saying that Friday night’s quake was unusually strong for that part of Morocco. 

Global reactions

French President Emmanuel Macron said Saturday he was "devastated" by the earthquake in Morocco, which has killed at least 600 people, and offered to help relief efforts. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna expressed "solidarity" with Morocco Saturday.

France's top diplomat added she was "thinking" about the victims and their families, in a message on X, formerly Twitter.

The head of the African Union Commission on Saturday expressed "great pain" over the devastating earthquake in Morocco which has claimed more than 600 lives.

"I learnt with great sadness of the tragic consequences of the earthquake that hit the kingdom of Morocco," Moussa Faki Mahamat said, expressing his "sincere condolences" to the king, the Moroccan people and the families of the victims.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday offered support to Morocco after "this devastating earthquake".

"We will support our Moroccan brothers in every way in this difficult hour," he said in a message on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences Saturday to the "friendly people" of Morocco after an earthquake struck, killing over 600 people overnight.

"In Russia, we share the pain and the mourning of the friendly Moroccan people," Putin said in message to Morocco's King Mohammed VI, offering his "sincere condolences for the tragic consequences of the devastating earthquake".

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a "message of condolence" to Morocco Saturday, state media reported, joining a chorus of international support for the North African country in the wake of a devastating earthquake.

"On September 9, President Xi Jinping sent a message of condolence to King Mohammed VI of Morocco over the severe earthquake in Morocco," official broadcaster CCTV said.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez offered his condolences on Saturday to relatives to the victims of a "terrible" earthquake in Morocco that killed over 600 people.

"All my solidarity and support to the people of Morocco in the wake of this terrible earthquake... Spain is with the victims of this tragedy and its families," he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.