“I felt my bed shaking,” Ouiame Gumma told The Daily Beast. “I started having a panic attack and crying—I couldn’t move or do anything.”
But paralyzing terror collided with the realization that her house could collapse on top of her. Gumma and her family ran into the streets, where they saw the scale of the unfolding tragedy.
“The neighborhood was full of scared people,” she said. “They were stressed and screaming all the way.”
The earthquake damaged half of Gumma’s house, while a number of her neighbors lost their homes altogether. She and her relatives had to spend the night camped out in a local garden, afraid to return to their house amid the possibility of aftershocks.
Many Moroccans fared even worse. The official death toll from the earthquake has climbed to 2,497, with another 2,476 injured. The true extent of the devastation, however, may take more time to gauge: Moroccan authorities are still struggling to reach the remote towns and villages worst hit by the earthquake.
The information trickling out of Morocco’s rural areas paints a grim portrait. Al Haouz Province, located southeast of Marrakesh, accounts for over half the recorded deaths—many of them among isolated communities in the Atlas Mountains.
Meanwhile, residents of Tizi N’Test, a village in Taroudant Province southwest of Marrakesh, filmed a video of themselves transporting their dead on donkeys while waiting for assistance from the government and aid agencies.
“At this stage we are still collecting water, food, and covers to go to the villages,” the Marrakesh branch of the Federation of Women’s Rights Leagues, one of the groups organizing aid, told The Daily Beast. “Access is restricted in many villages in the countryside. We are still not there yet, but we are coordinating with local authorities to get the aid to the people.”
With rubble blocking vital roads, Moroccan leaders have responded by mobilizing a range of resources, including troops. As military vehicles race along the highway from Casablanca to Marrakesh, the armed forces have deployed excavators, helicopters, and even drones to support rescues and evacuations.
Morocco has received offers of additional assistance from countries as varied as Israel, Kuwait, Romania, Taiwan, and the United States. Even Algeria, Morocco’s longtime rival, pledged to open its airspace to aircraft carrying aid for its neighbor amid one of the region’s worst earthquakes in living memory.
In a September 9 report, the U.S. Geological Survey described the earthquake as the highest magnitude to strike the south of Morocco since at least 1900, the farthest back the American government agency’s records go.
Yet the kingdom as a whole is no stranger to deadly tremors.
A 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit the northern city of Al Hoceima in 2004, killing 628 people, injuring 926, and leaving over 15,000 without homes. The Geological Survey report noted that a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in 1960 caused between 12,000 and 15,000 deaths in the southern port of Agadir, an episode that has shaped that city’s reactions to more recent events.
Safa Akdid, an IT professional in Agadir, recounted how she and her friends fled their apartment when Friday’s earthquake shook their building.
“We found people running from their houses and screaming,” Akdid told The Daily Beast. “Everyone was afraid. We were just trying to talk to our families but there was no network. We decided to sleep outside the house, where there were no buildings.”
Fears of aftershocks are warranted. The first—which the Geological Survey put at a magnitude of 4.2—struck the Marrakesh area on September 10.
The impact on the historical sites of Marrakesh, a capital of medieval North African empires that has become Morocco’s top tourist destination, is coming into focus.
The earthquake damaged Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakesh’s most famous place of worship and the flagship of the Green Mosques Program, Morocco’s much-vaunted project to make religious sites solar powered. Homes, mosques, and other historic buildings in Marrakesh’s old city, a UNESCO-designated world heritage site, likewise sustained damage or were destroyed outright.
The destruction in the underserved settlements beyond Marrakesh, though, could have even greater repercussions down the road.
Asmae Barghane, the president of a cooperative in Taskoukte, a village in Ouarzazate Province southeast of Marrakesh, recounted the horror that spread throughout her community on Friday.
“Terror, terror—do you know what terror is?” she said. “Houses trembling, we ran outside to the street. The old houses were in ruins, all of them in ruins. Some people had their houses fall on them, and the mountain in the village was split in two.”
Barghane told The Daily Beast that every house in Taskoukte had collapsed or had its structural integrity compromised by fissures. The village’s residents refused to return to any homes left standing and were instead sleeping in fields.
Jamie Fico, an American researcher visiting Taskoukte at the time of the earthquake, noted a longer-term concern tied to the splintering of rock formations near the village.
“When it rains, it’s going to carry a bunch of large rocks into the village,” she said.
Barghane outlined the risks for villagers in a province with a history of deadly floods: “When winter comes, the whole village will be gone. The mountains will fall on the village.”
Fico added that the dearth of information had contributed to the climate of fear, with inaccurate predictions of aftershocks continuing to circulate.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation spreading,” she told The Daily Beast. “I had people call me warning that it was going to happen again at specific times in different cities.”
Yet social media has also been a lifeline as aid struggles to reach those who need it most.
Moroccans across the kingdom and among the diaspora have shared advertisements for blood drives, calls for donations, and plans to organize caravans to the worst-hit areas. In an Instagram post liked over a million times, Achraf Hakimi, the face of Morocco’s victories at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, called on Moroccans to give blood.
On September 10, a Moroccan official announced that these types of campaigns had led Moroccans to donate 6,000 bags of blood in one day.
While aid snakes its way from Morocco’s urban areas to the kingdom’s ravaged countryside, affected communities’ desperation grows.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of people camping out along the road and open areas away from buildings,” said Fico. “The people haven’t left, but they don’t have anywhere to go.”