Strong earthquake in Morocco kills more than 800 people

A rare earthquake in Morocco killed at least 820 people late Friday night, shaking the country from the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech and damaging historic structures.

The 6.8-magnitude quake is the strongest to hit the country in 120 years, and its strength toppled entire mountain villages and damaged the historic buildings of Marrakech’s old town.

The death toll has continued to climb as the damage to remote mountain settlements is reported. Over 650 people were injured by the quake, Morocco’s Interior Ministry reported Saturday morning.

“The problem is that where destructive earthquakes are rare, buildings are simply not constructed robustly enough to cope with strong ground shaking, so many collapse resulting in high casualties,” Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, told The Associated Press.

“I would expect the final death toll to climb into the thousands once more is known. As with any big quake, aftershocks are likely, which will lead to further casualties and hinder search and rescue,” he said.

Moroccan rescue authorities have struggled to access remote villages as roads have been clogged with traffic and blocked by rock slides.

In Marrakech, sections of the historic red clay walls of the old city were damaged as well as the famous 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque, though the extent of the damage is unknown.

Leaders all over Europe have offered Morocco assistance, including government officials in Turkey – which experienced its own devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake in February. France and Germany are also among the countries which have offered help.

The Moroccan government has yet to officially request international aid, meaning foreign rescue crews are yet to set off for the country.

The 6.8-magnitude quake was followed by a 4.9-magnitude aftershock 20 minutes later. Lahcen Mhanni, Head of the Seismic Monitoring and Warning Department at the National Institute of Geophysics, told The Associated Press that it was the strongest earthquake in Morocco’s recorded history.

Earthquakes are generally rare in North Africa. A 6.4-magnitude quake on the north coast in 2004 killed 600 people, and a 5.4-magnitude quake in 1950 killed thousands in the nearby city of Agadir.

The Agadir quake sparked changes in construction policy and planning, but many rural buildings are not built to the standard, The AP reported.

Portuguese emergency response authorities said the quake could be felt as far away as their country, as well as Algeria in the east.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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This story was originally published September 9, 2023, 4:36 AM.