Morocco’s deadliest earthquake in decades has killed more than 1,000 people, authorities said on Saturday, as troops and emergency services scrambled to reach remote mountain villages where casualties are still feared trapped.
Updated interior ministry figures on Saturday showed the quake killed at least 1,037 people, the vast majority in Al-Haouz, the epicentre, and Taroudant provinces.
Another 1,204 people were injured, including 721 in critical condition, the ministry said.
The 6.8-magnitude quake struck the mountainous area 72 kilometres (45 miles) southwest of tourist hotspot Marrakesh at 11:11pm (10:11pm GMT) on Friday, the US Geological Survey reported.
With strong tremors also felt in the coastal cities of Rabat, Casablanca and Essaouira, the quake caused widespread damage and sent terrified residents and tourists scrambling to safety in the middle of the night.
“I was nearly asleep when I heard the doors and the shutters banging,” said Ghannou Najem, a Casablanca resident in her 80s who was visiting Marrakesh when the quake hit. “I went outside in a panic. I thought I was going to die alone.”
In the mountain village of Moulay Brahim near the quake’s epicentre, rescue teams searched for survivors in the rubble of collapsed houses while residents began digging graves for the dead on a nearby hill, AFP correspondents reported.
The army set up a field hospital in the village and deployed “significant human and logistical resources” to support the rescue operation, state news agency MAP reported.
It was the strongest-ever quake to hit the North African kingdom, and one expert described it as the region’s “biggest in more than 120 years”.
“Where destructive earthquakes are rare, buildings are simply not constructed robustly enough… so many collapse, resulting in high casualties,” said Bill McGuire, professor emeritus at Britain’s University College London.
Civil defence Colonel Hicham Choukri, who is heading relief operations, told state television that the epicentre and strength of the earthquake have created “an exceptional emergency situation”.
“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.
“I could see buildings moving. We don’t necessarily have the reflexes for this type of situation. Then I went outside and there were a lot of people there.
People were all in shock and panic. The children were crying and the parents were distraught.“ “The power went out for 10 minutes, and so did the (telephone) network, but then it came back on,” he added. “Everyone decided to stay outside.”
FO reaches out to embassy in Rabat
Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said: “The people and Government of Pakistan stand in solidarity with the Kingdom of Morocco and express their heartfelt sympathies and condolences at the tragic loss of lives in yesterday’s earthquake.”
She added that Pakistan has also conveyed “our offer of assistance to Morocco” and that “our embassy in Rabat has reached out to the Pakistani community to inquire about their safety”.
“As per initial reports, all Pakistani nationals are safe,” she added. “We will continue to monitor the situation to facilitate them in the wake of this tragedy.”
In a post on X (formerly Twitter), the Pakistani embassy in Morocco said that Ambassador Hamid Asghar Khan, officers, staff and the Pakistani community there expressed their deepest condolences and were “ready to assist in any manner required”.
Khan, Pakistan’s diplomat there, also reiterated Baloch’s statement: “Thus far Pakistanis in Morocco are reported safe amidst devastation claiming over 800 lives.
“The government of Pakistan stands by ready to assist as required,” he added.