EXCLUSIVE: ‘We woke up to a stream of ambulance sirens’: Terror of British and US tourists as hotels are hit by Morocco earthquake
- At least 632 people are known to have been killed in the 7.2 magnitude quake
- Have you been impacted by the earthquake? Email email@example.com
British and US holidaymakers stranded in Morocco in the aftermath of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake have told how they escaped the ‘terrifying’ tremor, as more than 630 people were confirmed to have died.
Morocco’s biggest earthquake in over 120 years struck south of Marrakesh on Friday night, killing at least 632 people and leaving more than 320 injured as the desperate scramble to save those trapped begins.
As relatives in the UK desperately try to contact their loved ones in the Atlas mountains, a popular trekking area which was also the epicentre of the earthquake, those in Marrakesh described waking up to ‘a stream of ambulances’ in the city.
Footage shared on social media showed a massive cloud of dust rising in Marrakesh – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and hugely popular tourist town – as buildings collapsed and people fled for their lives.
The earthquake, which measured 7.2 on the Richter scale, struck Morocco’s Atlas Mountains and caused tremors as far away as Portugal, has wiped out entire families as witnesses describe ‘unbearable screaming and crying’.
Have you been impacted by the Moroccan earthquake? If safe to do so, email firstname.lastname@example.org
British holidaymaker Debra Wilton, who arrived at the Rui Tikida Garden Hotel in Marrakesh with her husband two hours before the quake hit, told MailOnline the hotel descended into ‘absolute chaos’.
She said: ‘We arrived and headed to the bar, and that’s when the earthquake happened.
‘The whole building just shook it was so scary. The staff were running around like headless chickens, our TUI reps did not know what to do. It was just horrendous.’
Although no guests at the hotel were injured, Ms Wilton said a member of staff was hurt, but an ambulance arrived swiftly to take them to hospital.
She added: ‘My niece’s husband along with another guest had to use a crowbar to help three people trapped in the lift. There was no real emergency plan.
‘We were all then told to stay outside and then had to spend night at front of hotel sleeping on towels, blankets. Truly horrendous.’
She added that among guests told to stay outside of hotel buildings were several people in wheelchairs, as well as the elderly.
‘We’re ok we’re just shellshocked. There is damage to the hotel, with cracks in the walls, lots of missing plaster in rooms on the third floor. People don’t know if they are safe to sleep in.’
US tourist Laneishia Waters arrived in Marrakesh at 11am local time on Friday.
She told MailOnline the quake, which lasted between 20 seconds and a minute ‘took them by surprise’.
Ms Waters said: ‘The whole building was moving. It was scary, as east coast Americans we hear stories of bombings but we don’t experience quakes.
‘When we opened our fifth floor apartment rental the building was eerily quiet except for the sound of a few people racing down the steps to outside.
‘We threw our clothes and shoes on and followed suit. There were so many people huddled, some with no shoes on and for so many people to be outside it was so quiet. You expect city noises. You heard ambulances.
‘This morning we woke to 600 plus dead and a stream of ambulance sirens continuing.
‘Our building is cracked and splintered and when we walked onto one portion we could hear this brand new building cracking and creaking.’
Other British tourists described sleeping on sunloungers overnight or on the grass outside their hotel.
Helen Morris, who was also staying at the Riu Tikida Gardens Hotel, said: ‘The hotel has sustained some damage but thankfully everyone appears well after a pretty terrifying experience.
‘We are very fortunate that our hotel and TUI reps are trying their best to look after us in an unprecedented situation for us all. Pray for the Moroccan people in what is a very difficult time for them.’
‘It was a pretty traumatic experience all around. We were just trying to get to sleep when it hit. It took a few seconds to realise what was happening.
‘We tried to take cover under a desk in the room. Paintings started falling off the walls, everything was shaking heavily and the rumble was very loud. After about 30 to 40 seconds we fled outside and remained there all night.
‘Everyone was screaming, shouting, running. A lot of people were shaking in shock long after the earthquake stopped.
‘We had to move well away from the buildings, which meant we had to sleep out the front of the hotel, away from the pools too, due to the proximity of the buildings. We slept on the concrete floor or grass with pool towels as blankets, which were distributed by the hotel staff during the night. Unfortunately we could not use the sun loungers.
‘We are due to fly home Monday and I imagine those plans won’t change unless circumstances change. I did take a look at flights but they all seem to be full, so we just need to ride it out a couple more days.
‘I’m sure that TUI will be coming around to speak to us during the course of the day. They were very supportive last night and stayed present throughout.’
MailOnline has contacted TUI for comment.
Fellow Brit Ria Lucas, 26, arrived in Marrakesh with her parents, brother and fiance on Friday night.
She said: ‘It’s been chaotic. We only arrived last night and the earthquake happened during check-in, even the staff didn’t know what to do. The whole hotel slept outside on the sunbeds.
‘We thought it was a large truck going past at first, but then the lights above us started swinging and little bits of plaster started to fall from the ceiling. The staff rushed us outside pretty quickly and it all seemed to be over as fast as it had started.
‘Luckily our resort only has superficial damage and no injuries, but were constantly hearing sirens this morning.’
A statement from Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on behalf of the Foreign Office this morning said: ‘Devastating news of a substantial earthquake just outside Marrakesh, Morocco.
‘The UK is continuing to support British nationals in the region. We stand ready to help our Moroccan friends in whatever way we can.’
The Foreign Office added that anyone who is worried about a loved one can get in touch with officials by phoning 020 7008 5000.
Moroccan state TV reported the death toll had risen from an initial 300 to 632 by early on Saturday. The epicentre was 40 miles south of the popular tourist city.
The ministry wrote that most damage occurred outside of cities and towns, and the United States Geological Survey warned that the death toll was likely to rise significantly, because rural buildings were not built to sustain such earthquakes.
Those in the city posted videos showing buildings reduced to rubble and dust, and parts of the famous red walls that surround the old city in Marrakesh damaged.
Other footage shows rescue attempts are well underway, with locals helping to try and free those trapped using their bare hands.
But there are warnings the strong quake means it will take time to reach mountain villages and other smaller settlements outside of Morocco’s cities, meaning the true extent of the damage and people harmed remains unknown.
The Interior Ministry urged calm, saying in its televised statement on the death toll that the quake had hit the provinces of Al Haouz, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, Azilal, Chichaoua and Taroudant. Officials added that most of those killed will be in hard to reach settlements outside of the cities.
Elsewhere urgent supplies were seen being loaded onto trucks by the Civil Defence department, ready for distribution to those in need.
Tourists and others posted videos of people screaming and evacuating restaurants in the city as throbbing club music played.
Global leaders offer support to quake-hit Morocco
Messages of support began to roll in from around the world on Saturday. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz posted condolences on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Saturday he was “devastated” by the earthquake in Morocco, which has killed at least 600 people, and offered to help relief efforts.
“We are all devastated after the terrible earthquake in Morocco,” Macron said on X, formerly known as Twitter, while onboard a flight to the G20 summit in India. “France stands ready to help with first aid.”
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez offered his condolences on Saturday to relatives of the victims of a “terrible” earthquake in Morocco that killed over 600 people.
“All my solidarity and support to the people of Morocco in the wake of this terrible earthquake… Spain is with the victims of this tragedy and its families,” he wrote.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, currently hosting the Group of 20 summit of the world’s largest economies, wrote that ‘India is ready to offer all possible assistance to Morocco in this difficult time.’
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday offered support to Morocco after “this devastating earthquake”.
“We will support our Moroccan brothers in every way in this difficult hour.’
A U.N. spokesperson said that ‘the United Nations is ready to assist the government of Morocco in its efforts to assist the impacted population.’
Rather than return to concrete buildings, men, women and children stayed out in the streets worried about aftershocks and other reverberations that could cause their homes to sway.
Houda Outassaf, a local resident, said he was walking around the square when the ground began to shake.
‘It was a truly staggering sensation. We’re safe and sound, but I’m still in shock,’ he said.
‘I have at least 10 members of my family who died… I can hardly believe it, as I was with them no more than two days ago.’
Though earthquakes are relatively rare in North Africa, a magnitude 5.8 tremor struck near Agadir and caused thousands of deaths in 1960.
‘Earthquakes of this size in the region are uncommon, but not unexpected,’ said the USGS.
‘Since 1900, there have been no earthquakes M6 (magnitude 6) and larger within 500 km of this earthquake, and only 9 M5 (magnitude 5) and larger earthquakes.’
The USGS predicted that ‘significant damage is likely and the disaster is potentially widespread’, noting that many people in the area reside in structures that are ‘highly vulnerable to earthquake shaking’.
The epicenter of Friday’s tremor was high in the Atlas Mountains roughly 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) south of Marrakesh. It was also near Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa and Oukaimeden, a popular Moroccan ski resort.
The USGS said the epicentre was 18 kilometers (11 miles) below the Earth’s surface, while Morocco’s seismic agency put it at 8 kilometers (5 miles) down.
The quake was felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria, according to the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere and Algeria’s Civil Defense agency, which oversees emergency response.
People in the capital city of Rabat, about 350 km north of Ighil, and in the coastal town of Imsouane, about 180 km to its west, also fled their homes, fearing a stronger quake, according to witnesses.
In Casablanca, some 250 km north of Ighil, people who spent the night in the streets were too scared to return to their homes.
Hospitals in Marrakesh reportedly saw a ‘massive influx’ of injured people.
In 2004, at least 628 people were killed and 926 injured when a quake hit Al Hoceima in northeastern Morocco, and in 1960 a magnitude 6.7 quake in Agadir killed more than 12,000.
The 7.3-magnitude El Asnam earthquake in neighbouring Algeria in 1980 was regionally one of the most destructive earthquakes in recent history.
It killed 2,500 people and left at least 300,000 homeless.
The British Foreign Office has been contacted for comment.