‘Crying and screaming’: Canadian describes destruction following Moroccan quake

Living close to one of Canada’s most earthquake-prone regions, Nelson, B.C. resident Fiona Richards has experienced her share of tremors.

But none prepared her for the magnitude 6.8 quake that struck Morocco late Friday night while she was staying in Marrakech’s Medina quarter during a week-long vacation in the North African country.

“This one was terrifying,” she told in an interview over WhatsApp on Saturday. “It was the scariest thing I think any of us have ever been in.”

Outside, in the busy historic district, she said, “the screaming started as soon as the trembling started.”

Richards is visiting Morocco with her husband and two friends from Vancouver. The four were relaxing inside their rented home in the middle of the city’s old quarter when the largest quake to hit Morocco in 120 years struck.

“It was so strong, it was so powerful. It felt like the floor was moving under your feet and you could feel the vibrations just all through your body. And everything was moving and rumbling,” she said. Richards said the shaking went on for what felt like 30 to 40 seconds.

“Occasionally we would look up because I think we just we were expecting the walls to come down. And we’ve got cracks in the walls today, but we feel safe.”

Others weren’t so lucky. Officials in Morocco said the quake – which toppled buildings and walls from villages in the country’s Atlas Mountains to the ancient city of Marrakech – has killed more than 1,000 people and injured about 1,200 people. Deaths are concentrated mostly in Marrakech and five provinces near the quake’s epicentre, Morocco’s Interior Ministry reported Saturday morning, and the death toll is expected to climb as rescue and recovery efforts in heavily damaged areas continue.

A photo by Canadian Fiona Richards shows the damage in Marrakech’s Medina quarter following a deadly earthquake in Morocco on Friday night. (Fiona Richards photo)

Among the injured, the ministry wrote, 721 were in critical condition.

Across Marrakech, including in the crowded Medina, where Richards is staying, the force of the quake drove families into the streets, fearful their homes would collapse. Many, like the family next door to Richards’ rental home, spent Friday night outside.

“They stayed outside all night long and crying and screaming,” she said. “We went outside and we invited them in because our place was fine and tried to console them. This morning they’re still out there. They were too scared to go back into the building.”

Surveying the damage outside several hours after the quake, Richards said some streets were littered with rubble from collapsed buildings and smashed clay from pottery stands, while on others, people went about their business as usual among buildings that looked untouched by the damage.

Richards said she doesn’t know how the natural disaster will affect the remainder of her travel plans, but that she’s grateful her group still has access to shelter, electricity and running water.

“We have some plans, but I don’t know if those plans will still be valid,” she said.

“It’s a trip to take in the sights, sounds and smells of Marrakech, and now it’s taken on a different meaning.”

In a tweet on Saturday morning, Federal Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said Canada’s thoughts are with all of those affected by the destructive quake and urged Canadians in Morocco to register with Global Affairs Canada.

Several organizations have launched emergency response funds to help those affected by the quake, including Oxfam Canada, while others say they are monitoring the situation in Morocco.

– With files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press 

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