Gift of the Givers on standby to assist after more than 800 killed in earthquake in Morocco

09 September 2023 - 09:57
By Ahmed Eljechtimi
A view shows damage at an old mosque in the historic city of Marrakech, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco, September 9, 2023.
Image: Abdelhak Balhaki/Reuters A view shows damage at an old mosque in the historic city of Marrakech, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco, September 9, 2023.

Gift of the Givers search and rescue and medical teams are on standby to respond to the earthquake in Morocco if the country requests assistance from the global community, the organisation said on Saturday.

The powerful quake struck Morocco's High Atlas mountains late on Friday, killing at more than 800 people, destroying buildings and sending residents of major cities rushing from their homes, state television reported.

A local official earlier said most deaths were in mountain areas that were hard to reach.

Gift of the Givers said the country's government was managing the crisis, with armed forces and other sectors of society deployed.

"From our understanding, offers of international aid have not been taken up as yet. The death toll stands at 820 and is expected to rise. We are in contact with the South African embassy in Morocco in the event we need to deploy," the organisation said.

Residents of Marrakesh, the nearest big city to the epicentre, said some buildings had collapsed in the old city, a Unesco World Heritage site. Local television showed pictures of a fallen mosque minaret with rubble lying on smashed cars.

The interior ministry urged calm, saying in its televised statement on the death toll that the quake had hit the provinces of Al Haouz, Ouarzazate, Marrakesh, Azilal, Chichaoua and Taroudant.

Montasir Itri, a resident of the mountain village of Asni near the epicentre, said most houses there were damaged. “Our neighbours are under the rubble and people are working hard to rescue them using available means in the village,” he said.

Further west, near Taroudant, teacher Hamid Afkar said he had fled his home and felt aftershocks. “The earth shook for about 20 seconds. Doors opened and shut by themselves as I rushed downstairs from the second floor,” he said.

Morocco's geophysical centre said the quake struck in the Ighil area of the High Atlas with a magnitude of 7.2. The US Geological Survey put the quake's magnitude at 6.8 and said it was at a relatively shallow depth of 18.5km.

Ighil, a mountainous area with small farming villages, is about 70km southwest of Marrakesh. The quake struck just after 11pm (2200 GMT).

The earthquake is Morocco's deadliest since a 2004 tremor near Al Hoceima in the northern Rif mountains killed over 600 people.

The UN stood ready to help the Moroccan government in “its efforts to assist the impacted population”, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.

In Marrakesh, some houses in the tightly packed old city had collapsed and people were working hard by hand to remove debris while they waited for heavy equipment, said resident Id Waaziz Hassan.

Footage of the medieval city wall showed big cracks in one section and parts that had fallen, with rubble lying on the street.

Another Marrakesh resident, Brahim Himmi, said he saw ambulances coming out of the old town and many building facades damaged. He said people were frightened and were staying outside in case of another quake.

People in the capital city of Rabat, about 350km north of Ighil, and in the coastal town of Imsouane, about 180km to its west, also fled their homes, fearing a stronger quake, according to Reuters witnesses.

In Casablanca, some 250km north of Ighil, people who spent the night in the streets were too scared to return to their homes.

Videos shared on social media of the immediate aftermath of the quake, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed people fearfully running out of a shopping centre, restaurants and apartment buildings and congregating outside.


- With additional reporting from TimesLIVE