A family reels from Morocco earthquake devastation

Morocco Earthquake News: Devastation in Marrakesh

by Matt Collins

Earthquake news is never good news. Especially not when it involves North Africa’s “City of Luxury”…

Marrakesh is one of Morocco’s largest cities. Home to distinctive, red clay architecture, winding streets, and bustling bazaars whose history spans over millennia, it’s the jewel of North Africa and the pride of Morocco.

And on September 8th, it was struck by a catastrophic earthquake.

7.0 earthquake ravages Marrakesh. (Image courtesy of Wall Street Journal)

In a matter of minutes, thousands lost their lives. Countless historic sites and local institutions, too, were reduced to rubble. And North Africa was left reeling, with the global community helping to pick up the pieces.

Yet despite the massive scale of the devastation and the years it will take for Morocco to recover, the Marrakesh-Safi earthquake wasn’t even the most devastating quake of the last decade.

And unlike other natural disasters, like hurricanes or tornadoes, earthquakes can come on with practically zero warning. As such, the only time you hear earthquake news is after it’s too late.

So today, we’re taking a closer look at this most recent quake. To this end, we will evaluate how it happened and affected the region—and what lessons can be learned that might help protect you from the next major quake.

Let’s get started…

Table of Contents

  • 01

    Morocco: Bastion of Culture and North Africa’s Paradise (Valley)

  • 02

    Earthquake News: Catastrophe Strikes Morocco

  • 03

    Taking Stock of the Destruction

  • 04

    Measuring Disaster with the Richter Scale

  • 05

    Handling the Phantom Threat of Earthquake

  • 06

    Surviving to Rebuild

Morocco: Bastion of Culture and North Africa’s Paradise (Valley)

Prominently featured in movies, television, and other media, Morocco and its picturesque cities are an iconic part of Northern Africa.

The country's history stretches all the way back to ancient times, with archaeological evidence revealing early human settlements dating back to around 10,000 BCE. These communities, adapted to the region’s unique environment, left their mark in the form of tools, pottery, and art.

The heartbeat of Morocco’s heritage lies in its indigenous Berber populations. As early as the third millennium BCE, these enterprising tribes began to form the foundations of Moroccan society. And by the seventh century CE, the Berbers had established thriving tribal societies across the region.

The Romans played a significant role in shaping the country, too.

This began in 46 CE, when Emperor Claudius annexed Mauretania Tingitana, the northwestern region of modern-day Morocco, into the vast Roman empire. This marked a critical turning point in Moroccan history, bringing urbanization, trade, and cultural exchange. Notable Roman towns such as Volubilis and Lixus thrived during this period, showcasing remarkable architecture and infrastructure.

Morocco's next watershed moment would occur in the seventh century, when Arab armies brought their faith, the Arabic language, and culture. Significantly, their impact laid the foundation for Morocco’s longstanding Islamic identity.

Then, in the late fifteenth century, the country’s strategic location made it a focal point for European powers. This was particularly true of Portugal, which soon established trading posts along the Moroccan coast, sparking conflicts with local rulers.

During this era, Morocco became home to rampant piracy that preyed on nearby ocean shipping lanes. As such, the Barbary Coast came to be synonymous with maritime lawlessness, as pirates from Morocco and neighboring regions engaged in piracy and clashes with European powers.

Marrakesh has become iconic for its colorful bazaars and breathtaking architecture.  (Image courtesy of TripSavvy)

Later, Morocco was divided into French and Spanish protectorates by 1912’s Treaty of Fez. This marked a significant chapter in Morocco’s history, as foreign powers exerted control over various regions.

Meanwhile, the country’s push for independence from foreign rule became a central sticking point. Prominent leaders like Mohammed V, for example, drove against colonial rule, pleading with Moroccans to reclaim their country. Eventually, the country gained its independence in 1956.

Following its independence, Morocco began rapidly modernizing and growing its economy. Today, Morocco embraces its vibrant culture and the diversity of its past. With a rich history that was influenced by everyone from Europeans to Arabs and African Berbers, the result is a culture you can’t find anyone else in the worldand a proud North African country.

This is precisely why the September 8th, 2023, events were so devastating…

Earthquake News: Catastrophe Strikes Morocco

Less than an hour before midnight on September 8th, 2023, a massive earthquake ripped through the Moroccan cities of Marrakesh and Safi.

Alarmingly, earthquake news from seismologists would later confirm it reached 6.8-6.9 on the Richter scale, with a Mercalli intensity rating of VIII (severe). Accordingly, the estimated death toll was high—claiming nearly 3,000 livesand it’s now believed that rebuilding from the disaster could cost as much as 8% of the country’s entire economic output (gross domestic product, or GDP).

The far-reaching effects of the Marrakesh-Safi earthquake.  (Image courtesy of Britannica)

This makes the disaster the largest earthquake to strike Morocco since 2004, when Al Hoceima was rocked by a magnitude 6.3 quake that resulted in numerous casualties. Notably, neighboring Algeria saw a similarly devastating earthquake nearly two and a half decades earlier, in 1980, when a magnitude 7.3 quake claimed 2,500 lives.

Here, it should be noted that the frequency of deadly earthquakes in the area directly results from its geographic/tectonic positioning. More specifically, Morocco borders on “the Azores-Gibraltar Transform Fault,” which marks a boundary between the massive African and Eurasian tectonic plates. The immense tectonic forces at play can lead to large thrust vaults—resulting in the kind of violent earthquakes recently seen in Morocco and Algeria.

With a magnitude of 6.8–6.9, the Marrakesh-Safi earthquake struck at a shallow depth of 18.0 km (11.2 mi). Though different agencies reported slightly varying magnitudes, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) recorded it as Mw 6.8. The earthquake’s epicenter was situated 73.4 km (45.6 mi) southwest of Marrakesh, near the town of Ighil and the Oukaïmeden ski resort in the Atlas Mountains.

The seismic event, notably, resulted from oblique-thrust faulting beneath the High Atlas Mountains. The resulting rupture occurred either on a steep-dipping oblique-reverse fault striking northwest or a shallow-dipping oblique-reverse fault striking east. Shockingly, the fault rupture area was estimated to be 30 km (19 mi) by 20 km (12 mi). 

For perspective, no earthquake with a magnitude exceeding 6.0 has occurred within 500 km (310 mi) of the earthquake’s epicenter since 1990. Nevertheless, several events of magnitude 5.0 and larger occurred east of the region.

Taking Stock of the Destruction

To be sure, the Marrakesh-Safi earthquake had a devastating impact on Morocco, causing immense loss of life and property. Indeed, at least 2,946 people lost their lives, and 5,674 were reported injured, with over 2,500 injured in serious condition.

Many fatalities, it's worth noting, occurred in remote areas south of Marrakesh, particularly in Al-Haouz and Taroudant provinces. An estimated 50,000 homes, meanwhile, were partially or completely destroyed.

In particular, historic landmarks in Marrakesh suffered significant damage, including the Kharboush Mosque’s minaret, parts of its walls, and the Kutubiyya Mosque. Additionally, the ancient Medina of Marrakesh, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the twelfth century, witnessed the collapse of several buildings.

Morocco’s historic Jewish Quarter left in ruin. (Image courtesy of Times of Israel)

Infrastructure, including schools, was severely affected, too. More specifically, about 585 schools sustained damage, and seven teachers lost their lives.

In the wake of this disaster, countries from around the world offered humanitarian assistance to Morocco. Spain, the United Kingdom, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates were among the first nations whose offers were officially accepted by Morocco. Other countries, including France, Germany, Iran, Israel, and the United States, also expressed their readiness to provide support.

Alongside this, international organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations also pledged assistance in response to the earthquake news. The European Commission, too, contributed 1 million euros ($1.07 million) to support relief efforts.

Despite the outpouring of aid offers, however, there were delays and controversy regarding accepting foreign assistance. On one hand, some criticized the Moroccan government for its perceived reluctance to accept help, while others highlighted the need to carefully assess on-ground requirements.

Pivotally, King Mohammed VI played a key role in coordinating domestic response efforts, authorizing the deployment of the Royal Moroccan Army to affected cities to provide assistance, and declaring three days of national mourning. What's more, the king established a relief commission to aid survivors and initiated special bank accounts to facilitate donations.

Domestic and international rescue teams, meanwhile, worked tirelessly to recover survivors and bodies from the rubble. In tandem with this, blood donation campaigns were launched, with various organizations and even the Moroccan national football team participating.

And though the Moroccan government has faced criticism for delays in responding to the disaster, it's worth noting that it eventually mobilized significant resources, including medical personnel and military assistance, to address the crisis.

In the end, the road to recovery will be long and challenging, particularly in remote, mountainous areas that lack adequate infrastructure.

Measuring Disaster with the Richter Scale

The devastation caused by Morocco’s Marrakesh-Safi earthquake is truly massive.

But even with nearly 3,000 dead, it’s important to remember that things could’ve turned out much worse—as we’ve seen with numerous other deadly earthquakes over the last century…

The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, for example, wreaked havoc upon the Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area, unleashing a magnitude 7.9 earthquake that resulted in a staggering 142,000 casualties. Infernos spawned by its vibrations intensified the destruction, ravaging swaths of Tokyo and Yokohama. In the end, the calamity triggered sweeping reforms to Japanese earthquake preparedness and urban planning.

Decades later, the mega-thrust earthquake of Valdivia occured. Wreaking ruinous destruction upon Chile on May 22nd, 1960, it remains the most powerful ever recorded. With a fearsome magnitude of 9.5, it caused an agonizing rupture along a span of 1,000 kilometers along the subduction zone where the Nazca Plate plunges beneath the South American Plate. In the following weeks, its horrific effects were felt far and wide, bereaving over one thousand lives and displacing two million from their homes.

Earthquake scale infographic

An earthquake is ten times stronger with each point on the Richter scale.  (Image courtesy of Earthquake Authority)

What's more, tsunamis spawned by the powerful earthquake spread their effects to Hawaii, Japan, and the Philippines, magnifying the sweeping international ramifications of this colossal seismic event.

In the subsequent decade, a devastating quake of magnitude 7.5 rocked Tangshan in north-eastern China with little to no warning, leaving the erstwhile bustling city and its residents shattered. Horrifyingly, the quake exacted an enormous human toll, totaling an estimated 242,000 fatalities. The aftermath of such a calamity completely ravaged Tangshan, leading to a sweeping review concerning earthquake preparedness measures and subsequent response strategies throughout China.

Jumping forward yet another decade, to 1985, an 8.0 magnitude earthquake originating off the Pacific coast inflicted ruinous destruction upon Mexico City. Reports estimated that between 10,000 and 30,000 people perished in its wake and numerous edifices were destroyed or toppled in the calamity. As with other earthquakes we've mentioned, the disaster catalyzed meaningful improvements in earthquake fortification and emergency action in Mexico.

Years later, on December 26th, 2004, a colossal undersea earthquake of magnitude 9.1-9.3 provoked one of history’s deadliest tsunamis in the Indian Ocean region. Originating from off the west coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia, the tsunami traversed across fourteen nations in its destructive wake.

Subsequently, an estimated 230,000 to 280,000 individuals perished due to this devastating episode, prompting notable improvements in local tsunami alert apparatuses and invoking global coordination for calamity relief.

Roughly five years later, in 2010, a calamitous earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale ravaged Haiti, with its epicenter near Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital. Despite an unremarkable magnitude by world standards, this seismic event decimated Haiti as it was profoundly exposed to damage.

Consequently, over 230,000 perished, and hundreds of thousands haplessly became homeless as Haiti encountered mammoth hardships while striving to restore its infrastructure and furnish necessary amenities.

The following year, Japan encountered an unprecedented earthquake of magnitude 9.0-9.1, labeled the Tohoku or Great East Japan Earthquake. This seismic shock caused a devastating tsunami that inundated seaside regions and engulfed Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Tragically, more than 15,000 fatalities resulted from the quake, in addition to a nuclear meltdown that led to immediate evacuation of the area. Japan, for its part, undertook formidable measures to prepare for and recover from this catastrophe.

Most recently, in 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake decimated Nepal, leaving substantial destruction in Kathmandu and surrounding areas. Immeasurable loss of life ensued, with 8,000 perishing while innumerable others were injured.

Handling the Phantom Threat of Earthquake

When it comes to natural disasters, only earthquakes can cause such massive levels of destruction—with practically zero warning.

As such, regions worldwide, from San Francisco to Marrakesh, must maintain constantly vigilance when it comes to being prepared. Because by the time the earthquake news breaks, it’s often already too late to prepare.

When preparing for any kind of natural disaster, we suggest starting with a local map of your city.

After all, disaster threats will vary based on your specific area. Some areas, for example, are more prone to experience hurricanes, while other cities straddle massive fault lines like Southern California’s San Andreas fault.

Plus, being aware of the local geography can also give clues on how a disaster might affect your area. For example, do you live near any industrial facilities or chemical plants? Do you live within five to ten miles of a nuclear reactor? In the event of a catastrophic earthquake, these facilities could become damaged and threaten the local population (like the meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant).

Earthquakes can also have a devastating impact on infrastructure, as we recently saw in Marrakesh. That means you should be mindful of nearby roadways and bridges. 1989’s Loma Prieta earthquake, for example, notoriously shook San Francisco’s Candlestick Park during that year’s World Series—destroying bridges and roadways all over the area. So it’s essential to be aware of multiple routes in and out of town or routes you can take to seek emergency services.

Railroads are another primary consideration. After all, earthquakes could upset rail lines and cause derailments like we’ve recently seen in East Palestine, Ohio.

Large smoke plume over horizon

(Image courtesy of NPR)

Regarding personal protective equipment, having a full-face respirator or gas mask at your disposal is always a good idea. With this in mind, our CM-6M is standard gear for a number of different police and military organizations, including everyone from the Department of Defense to the South African Ministry of Interior.


The CM-6M has a panoramic visor, integrated hydration system, and compadibility with 40mm gas mask filters like the VK-530, which can protect you from the full range of chemical, biological, and nuclear threatsand even smoke inhalation. Note that fire risk is highly elevated in the aftermath of an earthquake, so it’s important to have protection not just from CBRN threats, but from toxic smoke.


Additionally, we highly recommend keeping some basic decontamination tools nearby at all times. After all, you can’t always prevent exposure, but you can deal with it quickly with the right tools. Here, the MDG-1 Decontamination glove fits the bill, delivering rapid decontamination in a compact package.


Note that the outside of the MDG-1 is coated with a special, ultra-fine particulate called “montmorillionite.” The particles bond with whatever toxins are present on the contaminated area (skin, clothes, mask) and help lift them away to minimize exposure. As an ultra-simple solution that can achieve 90% decontamination in seconds, there’s no reason you shouldn’t already have it on hand.

Surviving to Rebuild

Earthquakes pose a unique threat among the world’s natural disasters.

They can strike at a moment’s notice, devastating entire communities, triggering deadly tsunami waves and ravaging massive swathes of infrastructure. All without a moment’s notice and all along fault lines that stretch all over the world.

People cleaning up in the wake of Morocco’s earthquake

Cleaning up in the wake of Morocco’s earthquake.  (Image courtesy of CNN)

If you’re in a community at risk of earthquake damage, then it’s vital to be prepared for this specific type of threat.

That means assessing nearby threats, understanding how a quake could impact your local infrastructure, reading up on the latest safety precautions, and stocking up on PPE that could save your life when the ground starts quaking.

Because just like we saw in Marrakesh, the earthquake news won’t break until after the damage is done.