What we know about Morocco's deadly earthquake

What we know about Morocco’s deadly earthquake

More than 1,000 people died after a strong earthquake with a small magnitude of 6.8 hit Morocco on Friday night near the city of Marrakesh, the largest earthquake to hit the country in decades.

The death toll is rising rapidly as rescue workers search towns and villages around the epicenter in the High Atlas Mountains and walk through the ruins of the ancient city of Marrakesh, which is about 70 kilometers north. Morocco’s leader, King Mohammed VI, has asked the military to carry out search and rescue efforts, and other nations including France, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey have pledged their support for the operation.

The area near the earthquake’s epicenter is known for its small, picturesque villages nestled in the mountains while Marrakech is an international tourist destination with a history dating back to the Middle Ages. The famous red walls that mark the city limits, and the Kutubiyya mosque in the old city, were both damaged in the earthquake, but the full extent is still unknown.

Many buildings in the old city are hundreds of years old; the Kutubiyya mosque dates back to the 12th century. Because earthquakes are rare in Morocco, buildings are not built to withstand them as they might be in a city like San Francisco or Tokyo. In addition, the earthquake was 18 kilometers underground, according to the United States Geological Survey, which may have increased the damage and indicated a high number of deaths. “I would expect the final number of deaths to go up into the thousands again,” Bill McGuire, a professor from climate and climate risks at the University of London told the Associated Press. As with any major earthquake, aftershocks will lead to further injuries and hamper search and rescue efforts.

Both Marrakesh and its surrounding areas have a high population density, which may have influenced the number of victims. Although the affected area itself has a population of about 1.8 million, parts of Marrakech are more densely populated than Manhattan, according to a New York Times analysis of data from WorldPop, a project from the University of Southampton in Britain.

Seismology has improved in recent decades and understanding of fault lines and potential earthquake zones is clearer than in the past, which can help drive policy and planning. But it’s still hard to predict when earthquakes will strike – making it all the more important that vulnerable areas are prepared to deal with the disaster.

Here is how the Moroccan government is handling the problem

Morocco has a prime minister, Aziz Akhannouch, but the king has the final say in government affairs, according to the Moroccan constitution. Any international assistance would have to be at Mohammed’s invitation.

The monarchy is an important institution in Morocco’s national identity, and dates back to the 8th century. Mohammed’s father, Hassan II, ruled for 38 years during the post-colonial transition in Morocco and the African continent in general; despite his complicated heritage, he was a prominent figure on the world stage and cultivated friendships with the US and Israel.

Mohammed, however, is often absent from his country, and not on diplomatic trips – he returned to Morocco this spring after a long trip to France and Gabon, and is often seen in the company of the Moroccan Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Abu Bakr. Azaitare and his brothers. Although they have not been seen nearly since Mohamed’s return, Moroccan media have often disparaged the brothers and expressed concern about their influence on the king, the Financial Times reported last month.

The Royal Moroccan Forces sent helicopters, drones, and airplanes on a search and rescue mission, according to the Associated Press; travel by land to the affected areas has been made very difficult due to traffic and debris from the earthquake. Médecins sans Frontières announced Saturday that it will send a team to Morocco and is already in contact with local authorities.

Mohammed himself has not been seen or heard from since the earthquake; even his order to send search and rescue forces was passed through the Moroccan Army. Although countries such as Japan, Israel, and Turkey have offered support – and three French regions have even pledged $2 million to aid efforts – it is unclear whether the king has accepted the aid.

Although Morocco is relatively stable compared to neighbors such as Libya and Tunisia, it still faces major economic struggles – including an agricultural sector suffering from a prolonged drought, and a tourism industry still reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic, not to mention rising prices due to inflation. in the war in Ukraine.

Friday night’s earthquake is reminiscent of the one that shook southern Turkey and northern Syria in February, where inadequate infrastructure contributed to high casualties and delays in search and rescue efforts. Although reforms to improve the earthquake resistance of buildings were introduced in 2011, they have not been adopted uniformly in all of Morocco’s earthquake zones, the New York Times reported, and quality inspections in poor and rural areas are rare.

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