A magnitude 6.8 earthquake has struck Morocco, killing at least 630 people, injuring more than 320, causing structural damage, and sending horrified residents fleeing into the streets.
Saturday morning state television reported that the death toll had doubled overnight, citing the Interior Ministry. 51 individuals were in critical condition among the injured.
Residents of Marrakesh, the closest major city to the epicenter, reported that several structures in the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, had collapsed. Local television broadcast images of a collapsed mosque minaret with debris strewn across crushed automobiles.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the quake occurred immediately after 11 p.m. local time (22:00 GMT) on Friday night.
The USGS estimates that the earthquake’s epicenter was in the Atlas Mountains, approximately 75 kilometers (44 miles) from Marrakesh, the fourth largest city in the country.
Marrakesh-based journalist Noureddine Bazine described the situation as a “horrific night.”
“As soon as the earthquake struck, chaos ensued, and we’re still trying to comprehend what transpired because it was so sudden,” she told Al Jazeera. The old city of Marrakesh suffered the most harm due to the fragility of its structures.
Jordanian Seismology professor Eid al-Tarazi told Al Jazeera, “Hundreds of aftershocks are possible.”
“People will need to steer away from weak buildings because they are susceptible to collapse. We anticipate the aftershocks to last three to four weeks,” he said.
Local media reported that roads leading to the mountainous region surrounding the epicenter were clogged with vehicles and obstructed by fallen boulders, which slowed rescue operations.
Abderrahim Ait Daoud, the Mayor of a nearby town, told the Moroccan news website 2M that several homes had partially or completely collapsed and that utilities and roads had been cut off in certain areas.
He also said authorities were working to clear roads in al-Haouz province to enable passage for ambulances and aid to populations affected. He added that due to the large distances between mountain villages, it will take time to determine the complete extent of the damage.
Moroccans uploaded videos depicting structures reduced to rubble and dust and portions of the famous red walls that encircle Marrakesh’s old city damaged.
Tourists and others uploaded videos of city residents shrieking and fleeing restaurants. Residents of Marrakesh and Casablanca fled from their homes and into the streets after being startled.
Brahim Himmi, a resident of Marrakesh, told Reuters that he observed ambulances departing the city’s historic old town. He also stated that building facades were damaged by the earthquake.
Even though earthquakes in the region are “uncommon but not unexpected,” one of this magnitude has not occurred in the region in over 120 years.
Since 1900, there have been no earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater within 500 kilometers of this earthquake, and only nine earthquakes of magnitude 5 or greater.
The majority of previous earthquakes also occurred to the east, the agency noted.
Friday evening’s earthquake occurred at a comparatively shallow depth of 18.5 kilometers (11.5 miles). The USGS explained that the earthquake was caused by “oblique-reverse faulting” in the Atlas Mountains.
The most recent significant earthquake to strike Morocco was in 2004, killing over 600 persons. This tremor, known as the al-Hoceima earthquake, occurred along an active plate boundary on the country’s northernmost coast, adjacent to the western Mediterranean Sea. It registered a magnitude of 6.3.
Algeria was impacted by an even larger earthquake in 1980. The magnitude 7.3 el-Asnam earthquake was the highest seismic activity the region had experienced in centuries. It originated in the Atlas Mountains and destroyed 300,000 homes, leaving at least 2,600 dead and 300,000 homeless.
On Saturday, messages of support from around the globe began to arrive.
Olaf Scholz, Germany’s Chancellor, posted condolences on X, formerly known as Twitter. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, currently hosting the Group of 20 summit of the world’s largest economies, wrote, “India is ready to offer all possible assistance to Morocco in this difficult time.”
A spokesperson for the United Nations stated, “The United Nations is prepared to assist the Moroccan government in its efforts to assist the affected population.”