Timeline: Morocco’s history of earthquakes

Al-Ahram Weekly , Sunday 17 Sep 2023

An earthquake of devastating proportions struck Morocco last week, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.



The impact has been particularly severe in the Al-Haouz Province, a region with a population of approximately 570,000, where the death toll continues to rise as rescue efforts go on in the search for survivors amidst the rubble.

The earthquake shattered villages with houses made of clay and mud brick, reducing them to ruins. Even the historic walls surrounding the old city of Marrakesh, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the 12th century, did not escape unscathed, with cracks and crumbling sections being visible after the earthquake.

This vibrant city, renowned for its palaces, spice markets, and bustling Jemaa El-Fna Square, felt the tremors reverberate through its very foundations. As law enforcement and aid workers, both local and international, converge on the hardest-hit areas, the affected residents find themselves in dire need of essentials like food, water, and electricity.

Steep mountain roads have been blocked by massive boulders, exacerbating the challenges faced in providing assistance.

The epicentre of the earthquake was located high in the Atlas Mountains around 70 km (44 miles) south of Marrakesh in a region characterised by picturesque red-rock mountains, stunning gorges, and shimmering streams and lakes and having many rural communities.

While last week’s earthquake was one of the most severe ever to strike Morocco, the country has not been free of such catastrophic events in the past.

1755: Great Lisbon Earthquake - On 1 November 1755, the earth convulsed with terrifying force off the coast of Portugal, triggering what would be known as the Great Lisbon Earthquake. Waves of seismic energy radiated through the ground reaching as far as Morocco. The ancient city of Agadir, situated on the Atlantic Coast, felt the wrath of nature’s fury. As the earth shook violently, buildings crumbled like sandcastles, and the ground beneath people’s feet turned treacherous, trapping them amidst the chaos. The devastation also did not end there, as a colossal tsunami, born from the seismic upheaval, crashed upon the shore further ravaging the already battered city.

1909: Ghomara Douars Earthquake - In the depths of a winter’s night on 21-22 January 1909, a cataclysm of almost unimaginable force struck the serene landscape near Tetouan. The earth trembled as if its fabric was unravelling before the eyes of the unsuspecting inhabitants. The village of Ghomara Douars five km from Tetouan bore the brunt of nature’s wrath. The ground convulsed, shattering homes like fragile porcelain and reducing them to fragments. Amidst the ruins, cries of anguish mingled with the mournful wails of a grieving community. The quake claimed the lives of 100 people.

1960: Agadir Earthquake - In the early hours of 29 February 1960, the city of Agadir was jolted awake by a malevolent force. The ground beneath the city rose and fell, and with a magnitude of 5.9, an earthquake unleashed its destructive might upon the unsuspecting city. Once orderly and familiar streets were twisted in a gruesome dance of destruction and reshaped by the horrifying reverberations. Amidst the chaos, the people of Agadir faced an agonising choice: to fight for survival or to surrender to the power of the quake. Tragically, at least 12,000 lives were cruelly snatched away as a result of the earthquake.

2004: Al-Hoceima Earthquake - On 24 February 2004, chaos descended upon the unsuspecting coastal town of Al-Hoceima in northern Morocco. The ground trembled in fury as the tectonic plates clashed in a cataclysmic dance of seismic proportions. With a magnitude of 6.4, the earthquake unleashed its wrath upon the town. Homes and businesses crumbled like porcelain, their foundations shattered and walls reduced to dust in an instant. In the aftermath of this devastating ordeal, at least 628 lives were cruelly claimed.

2016: Al-Hoceima Earthquake - On 25 January 2016, Al-Hoceima became the stage for a seismic spectacle. With a magnitude of 6.3, an earthquake unleashed its raw power upon the city. The ground quivered beneath the feet of its inhabitants, threatening to swallow their hopes and dreams in an instant. Cracks snaked across walls, while fragile facades crumbled under the assault of nature’s wrath. Tragically, amidst the chaos at least 926 lives were cruelly snatched away.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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