On the evening of September 8, a powerful earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale struck Morocco, occurring just after 11 p.m. local time. The quake originated at a depth of 11.5 miles, with its epicentre located 44 miles southwest of Marrakesh, specifically in the High Atlas Mountains of Al Haouz province. This region is home to numerous quaint and picturesque villages, many of which have suffered devastating consequences.
Among the impacted areas, Marrakesh, a historically significant and immensely popular tourist destination, bore the brunt of the damage. With a population of 840,000, it was the most heavily affected large city. The seismic shockwaves reverberated across several other Moroccan cities, including Casablanca, Agadir, Essaouira, and Rabat. Additionally, the earthquake’s tremors were felt in neighbouring Algeria and even as far as Portugal. The catastrophe has left no less than 380,000 people grappling with its aftermath.
Despite Marrakesh and Taroudant being relatively more affluent areas, the earthquake’s epicentre lay in a predominantly rural and mountainous terrain characterized by lower levels of relative wealth. This situation is particularly acute in the vicinity of the epicentre. These mountainous villages, nestled in remote locations, present formidable challenges in terms of accessibility for relief efforts and resource allocation. Adding to the difficulties, telecommunication outages have severed their connections with the surrounding region.
Remarkably, this earthquake stands as the most powerful to hit Morocco in over a century, with records stretching back at least 120 years. The seismic event has been followed by hundreds of aftershocks, the strongest of which registered at 5.9 on the Richter scale. Forecasts indicate that these aftershocks will persist into the foreseeable future.
The earthquake’s origins lie in a geological phenomenon known as a reverse fault, where one side of a fault, a fracture in the Earth’s crust, slips beneath the other. In this case, it occurred between the Morocco and Iberia microplates, both integral parts of the larger African plate.
Paula Marques Figueiredo, an expert in active tectonics and neotectonics, explained that reverse tectonic faults are situated north of the Atlas Mountains and at a certain point, they dip towards the mountains. During the earthquake event, the side facing the mountains moved over the other, causing an upward push on the mountainside. This was a consequence of the accumulated tension between the African and Eurasian plates over an extended period.
Figueiredo further clarified that faults can only endure a certain amount of stress, and occasionally, typically over millennia, an earthquake occurs as a mechanism to release this pent-up tension.
Seismologist Remy Bossu indicated that the most probable scenario now is the occurrence of aftershocks for several weeks before seismic activity gradually returns to a more typical level. This pattern is a common occurrence following significant seismic events.
Given the recent devastating earthquake in Morocco, the safety of travel to the region is a matter of great concern. Thousands have lost their lives, and the toll is anticipated to rise as rescue efforts persist. King Mohammed VI has expressed gratitude to Spain, Qatar, the UK, and the UAE for their aid contributions, underscoring the widespread impact on local communities.
For those with travel plans to Morocco, the instinct may be to reconsider, as vacationing in a nation in mourning might appear inappropriate. However, advice from those on the ground suggests that the situation is nuanced. Here’s what you should be aware of regarding travel to Morocco during this ongoing crisis.
The earthquake, measuring 6.8 in magnitude, had its epicentre in the High Atlas mountain range, approximately 72 miles southwest of Marrakech, within the province of Al Haouz—where the highest casualties have been reported.
Marrakech, a city with a rich historical heritage, experienced significant damage, particularly in its historic medina. Coastal cities popular among vacationers, like Essaouira and Agadir, also bore the brunt of the impact. The tremors extended as far north as Casablanca and Fez, approximately 300 miles northeast of Marrakech. Notably, no significant damage occurred in either of these cities or in the northern regions of the country as a whole.
That said, the Foreign Office has advised tourists to promptly contact their tour operators and airlines to confirm travel arrangements, considering the potential for disruptions caused by the earthquake.
It’s crucial to recognize that this earthquake stands as the deadliest in Morocco in over six decades, underscoring the gravity of the situation.
The international community has rallied to express condolences and extend support to Morocco in the wake of the devastating earthquake.
France has taken swift action by tapping into local government funds to provide emergency aid for humanitarian operations in the affected areas. Additionally, the French government has pledged a substantial sum of 5 million euros (approximately $5.3 million) to non-governmental organizations operating in Morocco to bolster rescue endeavours.
Spain has dispatched a search and rescue team, consisting of 56 soldiers and four specially trained dogs, to assist in the aftermath of the earthquake. This team has landed in Marrakech and is actively engaged in relief efforts, as reported by Spain’s defence ministry.
Turkey, having experienced its catastrophic earthquake earlier in the year resulting in significant loss of life, has promptly offered support to Morocco. They have expressed readiness to dispatch 265 personnel and provide 1,000 tents to reinforce aid initiatives.
Britain has demonstrated solidarity by deploying a team of 60 search and rescue specialists, including four search dogs, along with essential rescue equipment and a medical assessment team to Morocco. Their presence is aimed at providing crucial assistance during this challenging time.
Algeria, despite diplomatic tensions with Morocco in recent times, has opted to reopen its airspace for the passage of humanitarian aid and medical flights destined for or departing from the affected nation. This decision underscores a shared commitment to prioritize humanitarian needs above political differences.