The epicenter was in the remote and historically underserved al-Houz province, about 44 miles south of Marrakesh. It was the strongest quake to hit the area in more than a century, with the shock felt hundreds of miles away in Casablanca, Rabat and Fez.
1,305 people have been killed and another 1,832 injured, including 1,200 in critical condition, according to Morocco’s interior ministry. Experts said that the death toll was likely to rise significantly.
Cellphone networks in the worst affected areas had stopped working, leaving relatives across the country and around the world waiting anxiously for news.
On Saturday morning, authorities warned of potential aftershocks. “Everyone is panicking,” said Rachida Bouanani, a teacher in Marrakesh reached by phone. “Local authorities have asked people to evacuate their homes. My neighbors have taken out their money and gold and are asking each other’s forgiveness, they’re saying goodbye.”
Other families said they were camping out in the heat until the risk subsided. Marrakesh resident Faisal Baddour told AFP that the initial quake felt “like a train rolling through our houses.”
The first statement from Morocco’s Royal Palace, almost 20 hours after the earthquake, said that King Mohammed VI had chaired an emergency meeting with his cabinet and military officials. Reinforcements would be deployed to bolster search and rescue crews around the epicenter and a fund would be opened for public donations to support the effort, the statement said.
But the vastness of the quake zone and the complexity of the terrain was making rescue efforts challenging, said Caroline Holt, director of disaster, climate and crises for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Although civil society groups were establishing shelters and psychological support for those affected, only government troops appeared to be on the frontlines.
Some of the more remote areas were only reachable by helicopter, Holt said, and the heavy machinery needed to clear rubble from roads was difficult to transport in the mountainous region.
“It’s really common when there’s an earthquake that of course roads, road routes, are disturbed, that communication lines are down, electricity lines are down, clean water pipes are down” she said. “So there’s a lot of confusion and a lot of chaos at this moment in time.”
By Saturday evening, neither the king nor Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch had addressed the nation. Around the world, foreign allies said they had rescue teams on standby to deploy, but needed the go-ahead from the government.
“We’re just waiting for Morocco’s green light,” a European Union official told The Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.
Foreign crews have been crucial to saving lives after recent disasters, including February’s devastating earthquake in Turkey and the 2020 Beirut port explosion. But speed is critical. Most successful rescues take place within the first 24 hours of an earthquake. By the 72 hour mark, few survivors are likely to be found.
The quake zone is home to hundreds of villages where residents have traditionally received little support from the government, and which are frequently cut off after snow storms. Now, roads are blocked by debris, making it hard for rescuers to reach the area and for authorities and aid groups to assess the extent of the devastation.
In conversations with friends and family members in the city of Ouarzazate, Brahim El Guabli, an Assistant Professor at Williams College, said they recounted a quake so loud that it was like a raging bull on the roof, or the ripples that follow a bomb.
“Nobody there had witnessed such intensity of magnitude in living memory,” he said. “These areas will never be the same again, at least for those of us who know them.”
The United States also offered help on Saturday: “The United States is ready to provide any necessary assistance as Morocco responds to this tragedy,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the Moroccan people, and we offer our unwavering support and solidarity to our Moroccan partners at this tragic time”
Speaking at the G20 summit in Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the international community would provide “all possible assistance.” Spanish foreign minister Jose Manuel Albares said that his country’s military and diplomats were “at the disposal of Morocco.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country established a protectorate in Morocco in 1912 and maintained colonial rule there until 1956, said he was “devastated” by the news and offered help. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was scheduled to go dark at 11 p.m. in solidarity with Morocco, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo told reporters. The French soccer league said that a moment of silence would be observed in honor of the victims at its upcoming matches.
The earthquake was also felt in Algeria, although no deaths or injuries were reported. The Associated Press reported that Algeria offered to reopen its airspace to Morocco to facilitate aid and medical evacuations. It has been closed since 2021, when the nations severed diplomatic ties over a long-standing dispute in Western Sahara.
In Marrakesh on Saturday, residents lined up outside a blood transfusion center as authorities urged people to donate. On social media, members of the Morocco’s national soccer team posted photographs of themselves answering the call in the city of Agadir.
Morocco has been buffeted by crises in recent years. The coronavirus pandemic sapped its usually-vibrant tourist sites of visitors and a combination of drought and surging commodity prices sent food prices soaring.
The World Bank said the impact of inflation has been felt most acutely by the poorest 10% of Moroccans, many of who who live near the quake’s epicenter.
The extent of the damage to historic sites, which attract millions of tourists each year, was still unknown Saturday, with particular concern for the Medina of Marrakesh, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its bustling markets, tight streets, Islamic architecture and pink-walled perimeter.
Since 1900, there have been no magnitude 6 or larger earthquakes within 310 miles of Friday’s temblor in the Atlas mountains, and only nine earthquakes of magnitude 5 or higher, according to the USGS.
“Earthquakes of this size in the region are uncommon but not unexpected,” a statement said. The organization also wrote that the population in the affected region “resides in structures that are highly vulnerable to earthquake shaking.”
Nacer Jabour, a representative of Morocco’s National Institute of Geophysics, told local media that the main shock was “followed by hundreds of aftershocks.”
Caroline Anders and Justine McDaniel contributed to this report.