An earthquake has caused destruction and devastation in Morocco, where the death toll and injuries continue to rise as rescue teams dig up living and dead people in villages reduced to rubble.
Law enforcement and relief workers – both Moroccan and international – have arrived in the region south of the city of Marrakesh, which was hardest hit by the magnitude 6.8 quake and several aftershocks on Friday evening. Residents wait for food, water and electricity, and huge boulders now block steep mountain roads.
Here’s what you need to know:
Which areas are most affected?
The epicenter was high in the Atlas Mountains, about 70 kilometers (44 miles) south of Marrakesh in Al Haouz province.
The region is largely rural and consists of red rock mountains, scenic canyons, and sparkling streams and lakes.
For residents like Hamid Idsalah, a 72-year-old mountain guide from the Ouargane Valley, it is unclear what the future holds.
Due to its proximity to Marrakech and Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa and a destination for hikers and climbers, Idsalah relies on Moroccan and foreign tourists visiting the region.
“I can’t rebuild my home. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Still, I’m alive, so I’ll wait,” he said as rescue teams crossed the dirt road through the valley for the first time this weekend.
The earthquake shook most of Morocco and caused injuries and deaths in other provinces, including Marrakesh, Taroudant and Chichaoua.
WHO WAS AFFECTED?
According to Morocco’s 2014 census, 1,351 of the more than 2,400 deaths reported Monday morning occurred in Al Haouz, a region with more than 570,000 residents.
The people speak a combination of Arabic and Tachelhit, Morocco’s most common indigenous language. Mud and mud-brick villages built into mountainsides were destroyed.
Although tourism contributes to the economy, the province is largely agricultural. And like much of North Africa, Al Haouz expected a record drought before the earthquake, drying up rivers and lakes and endangering the largely agricultural economy and way of life.
Standing outside a destroyed mosque in the town of Amizmiz, Abdelkadir Smana said the disaster would worsen existing fighting in the region, which had reckoned with the coronavirus pandemic in addition to drought.
“It’s the same before and now,” said the 85-year-old. “There wasn’t much work, or any work at all.”
WHO WILL PROVIDE HELP?
Morocco has sent ambulances, rescue teams and soldiers to the region to help with the emergency response.
Aid groups said the government had not issued a comprehensive call for help and had accepted only limited foreign aid.
The Interior Ministry said it was accepting international search and rescue assistance from Spain, Qatar, Britain and the United Arab Emirates, bypassing offers from French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Joe Biden.
“We stand ready to provide any necessary assistance to the Moroccan people,” Biden said on a trip to Vietnam on Sunday.
WHY IS MARRAKECH HISTORIC?
The earthquake caused parts of the walls surrounding Marrakech’s old town, a 12th-century UNESCO World Heritage site, to crack and collapse. Videos showed dust rising from parts of the Koutoubia Mosque, one of the city’s best-known historical sites.
The city is Morocco’s most visited tourist destination and is known for its palaces, spice markets, tanneries and Jemaa El Fna, its noisy square full of food vendors and musicians.
HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO OTHER QUAKES?
Friday’s earthquake was the strongest in Morocco in over a century, but while such strong tremors are rare, it is not the deadliest in the country.
Just over 60 years ago, the country was rocked by a magnitude 5.8 quake that killed over 12,000 people on the west coast, where the city of Agadir collapsed, southwest of Marrakesh.
This quake led to changes to building regulations in Morocco, but many buildings, especially country houses, are not built to withstand such shaking.
According to the US Geological Survey, there has not been an earthquake with a magnitude greater than 6.0 within 310 miles (500 kilometers) of Friday’s quake in at least a century. Earthquakes are more common in northern Morocco, including tremors of magnitude 6.4 in 2004 and magnitude 6.3 in 2016.
Elsewhere this year, a magnitude 7.8 quake that struck Syria and Turkey killed more than 21,600 people.
The most devastating earthquakes in recent history have had a magnitude greater than 7.0, including a 2015 quake in Nepal that killed over 8,800 people and a 2008 quake that killed 87,500 people in China .
WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS?
Emergency operations are likely to continue as teams cross mountain roads to reach villages hardest hit by the earthquake. Many communities lack food, water, electricity and shelter.
But once aid troops and soldiers leave, the challenges facing hundreds of thousands living in the area are likely to remain.
Members of the Moroccan Parliament are due to meet on Monday to vote at the request of King Mohammed VI. to establish a government fund for earthquake relief.
Associated Press writers Jesse Bedayn in Denver, Angela Charlton in Paris and Will Weissert in Washington contributed to this report.