Morocco earthquake explained: Expert calls region's strongest quake 'exceptional'; here's why

The Interior Ministry said at least 296 people had died; several historic buildings in Marrakech have also been damaged


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Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Published: Sat 9 Sep 2023, 8:10 AM

Last updated: Sat 9 Sep 2023, 8:20 AM

A rare, powerful earthquake that struck Morocco late Friday night, killing hundreds of people and damaging historic buildings, was "exceptional", according to an expert.

Earthquakes are relatively rare in North Africa. Speaking to Moroccan news network 2M TV, Lahcen Mhanni, Head of the Seismic Monitoring and Warning Department at the National Institute of Geophysics, said, "Mountainous regions in general do not produce earthquakes of this size,” he said. "It is the strongest earthquake recorded in the region.”

In 1960, a magnitude 5.8 tremor struck near the Moroccan city of Agadir and caused thousands of deaths. The Agadir quake prompted changes in construction rules in Morocco, but many buildings, especially rural homes, are not built to withstand such tremors.

Morocco’s Interior Ministry said early Saturday that at least 296 people had died in the provinces near the quake. Additionally, 153 injured people were sent to hospitals for treatment. The ministry wrote that most damage occurred outside of cities and towns.

The head of the town of Talat N’Yaaqoub, Abderrahim Ait Daoud, told 2M that several homes in towns in the Al Haouz region had partly or totally collapsed, and electricity and roads were cut off in some places.

He said authorities are working to clear roads in the province to allow passage for ambulances and aid to populations affected, but said large distances between mountain villages mean it will take time to learn the extent of the damage.

Shallow quakes more dangerous

The US Geological Survey said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 when it hit at 11.11pm (3.11am UAE time), with shaking that lasted several seconds. The US agency reported a magnitude-4.9 aftershock hit 19 minutes later.

The USGS said the epicentre was 18 kilometres below the Earth’s surface, while Morocco’s seismic agency put it at 8 kilometres down. In either case, such shallow quakes are more dangerous.

The epicentre of Friday's tremor was high in the Atlas Mountains, roughly 70 kilometres south of Marrakech. It was also near Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa and Oukaimeden, a popular Moroccan ski resort.

The quake was felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria, according to the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere and Algeria's Civil Defense agency, which oversees emergency response.


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