A powerful earthquake in Morocco has killed more than 2,000 people

Updated September 10, 2023 at 3:50 AM ET

Over 2,000 people have died and more than 2,000 others have been injured after a powerful earthquake struck close to Morocco’s historic city of Marrakech.

The 6.8-magnitude earthquake on Friday night devastated homes in villages across the Atlas Mountains, as well as historical sites inside Marrakech city.

Video footage posted online from the earthquake region shows people dazed and panicked, moving through streets in the dark amid clouds of dust as they try to find some kind of safety.

Mourad Louksani, a hotel manager in Marrakech, told NPR’s Scott Simon that he was in his apartment with his children when the earthquake hit.

He said he was in bed and heard a sound that wasn’t “normal.” They felt the apartment shaking. “My children were crying. … Fortunately, we get outside the house and we went downstairs in the building and we saw everybody get out of their houses and we ended up standing outside. … Everybody went outside.”

Sayda Merican, a Turkish tourist living in London, was at an outdoor cafe in Marrakech when the quake struck.

“It was horrible. It felt really strong. At the beginning, we didn’t understand for 1-2 seconds what was going on. Then it hit quite hard,” she told NPR’s Lauren Frayer Saturday night.

She and her husband had been staying at the Marrakech Airport since the quake hit because they were too frightened to go back to their hotel.

“Because we’re from Turkey. We lived thru some earthquakes in the past,” Merican said. “Well, we have some trauma. That’s why it was horrible.”

Morocco’s Interior Ministry said on Saturday night that at least 2,012 people died and 2,059 were injured, 1,404 of them critically.

Rescue workers search for survivors in a collapsed house in Moulay Brahim, in Morocco’s Al Haouz province, on Saturday after an earthquake. (Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images)
A resident navigates through the rubble following a 6.8-magnitude quake in Marrakesh on Saturday. (Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images)

Rescuers worked through the night but say many roads are impassable, making it hard to reach the injured and those trapped under the rubble in some of the remote towns and villages. Power is also said to be out in several of these places.

The government has sent trucks loaded with aid — blankets, food, camp cots and more — to try to reach the affected areas.

In Marrakech, ambulances screamed through the streets ferrying the injured to overcrowded hospitals.

The minaret of a mosque stands behind damaged or destroyed houses following an earthquake in Moulay Brahim, Al-Haouz province, on Saturday.
Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images

The ancient city dates back to the 11th century and many of its stone buildings and masonry aren’t built to withstand earthquakes. The famous 12th century Koutoubia Mosque may have been damaged. Videos posted online show the mosque’s 226-foot-high minaret shaking, with dust billowing from the top. The famous red walls that surround the old city — a UNESCO World Heritage site — have also reportedly crumbled in some places.

Marrakech attracts tourists from around the world. After the earthquake, some tourists joined lines of Moroccans at a Marrakesh hospital offering to donate blood to help the many wounded.

Residents flee their homes after an earthquake in Moulay Brahim village, near the epicenter of the earthquake, outside Marrakech, Morocco, on Saturday. (Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP)

President Biden said in a statement that he was “deeply saddened” by the loss of life in Morocco. “We are working expeditiously to ensure American citizens in Morocco are safe, and stand ready to provide any necessary assistance for the Moroccan people,” he said.

France and Germany, which both have a large number of Moroccan nationals in their populations, are among many countries that have also offered to send assistance.

This is reportedly the strongest earthquake ever recorded in this region of the Atlas Mountains. But Morocco does have some history of earthquakes.

In 1960, between 12,000 and 15,000 people died in a quake near the coastal city of Agadir.

Residents take shelter outside at a square following an earthquake in Marrakech on Saturday. (Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images)

This post contains reporting from NPR’s Lauren Frayer.

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