Powerful Earthquake Strikes Morocco, Killing Hundreds And Damaging Historic Buildings


RABAT, Morocco (AP) — A rare, powerful earthquake struck Morocco late Friday night, killing hundreds of people and damaging buildings from the historic city of Marrakech to villages in the Atlas Mountains.

Men, women and children stayed out in the streets, fearing aftershocks.

Morocco’s Interior Ministry said early Saturday that at least 296 people had died in the provinces near the quake. The ministry also reported that 153 people were injured and sent to hospital for treatment. The ministry wrote that most damage occurred outside of cities and towns.

The head of the town of Talat N’Yaaqoub, Abderrahim Ait Daoud, told Moroccan news site 2M that several homes in towns in the Al Haouz region had partly or totally collapsed, and electricity and roads were cut off in some places.

He said authorities are working to clear roads in the province to allow passage for ambulances and aid to populations affected, but said large distances between mountain villages mean it will take time to learn the extent of the damage.

Moroccans posted videos showing buildings reduced to rubble and dust, and parts of the famous red walls that surround the old city in Marrakech, a UNESCO World Heritage site, damaged. Tourists and other people posted videos showing people rushing out of restaurants and screaming as club music was played. The US agency reported that a magnitude-4.9 earthquake struck 19 minutes later. In either case, such shallow quakes are more dangerous.

View of a damaged car and debris from the earthquake in Marrakech, Morocco September 9, 2023 in this screen grab taken from a video. Al Oula TV/Handout by REUTERS

The earthquake epicenter was located in the Atlas Mountains about 70 km (43.5 miles south of Marrakech). It was also near Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa and Oukaimeden, a popular Moroccan ski resort.

Earthquakes are relatively rare in North Africa. Lahcen Mhanni, Head of the Seismic Monitoring and Warning Department at the National Institute of Geophysics, told 2M TV that the earthquake was “exceptional.”

“Mountainous regions in general do not produce earthquakes of this size,” he said. “It is the strongest earthquake recorded in the region.”

In 1960, a magnitude 5.8 tremor struck near the Moroccan city of Agadir and caused thousands of deaths.

The Agadir quake prompted changes in construction rules in Morocco, but many buildings, especially rural homes, are not built to withstand such tremors.

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