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Earthquake in Morocco traumatized us: ‘Places I loved and people I saw regularly were gone in the blink of an eye’

The earthquake wiped out entire villages in the mountains. The gorgeous old buildings and gardens that once adorned them turned into piles of sand. All the wonderful memories I held in my mind – places I visited and people I saw regularly – they were all gone in the blink of an eye.

  • 7 months ago
  • September 15, 2023
5 min read
On September 8, 2023, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Morocco. At last count, authorities estimate 2,900 dead and 5,500 injured. On September 8, 2023, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Morocco. At last count, authorities estimate 2,900 dead and 5,500 injured. | Photo courtesy of the alyaoum24 via Creative Commons. Details at bottom of story.
INTERVIEW SUBJECT
Ahmed Baqqa, born in 1967 in Ouled Mtâa, Morocco, holds a doctorate in chemistry, with experience in the researching and developing of pharmaceuticals. He also worked as a senior consultant in innovation financing in France. He later went back to Morocco to live, and start his own company that makes its own fresh produce, including as olive oil, almonds, and fruits.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
On Friday, September 8 2023, Morocco experienced one of its most powerful earthquakes all across the country. With a magnitude of 6.8 at 18.5 km depth, the earthquake wped out entire vllages in the epicentre of the High Atlas Mountans, and severely impacted the cities near it, including Marrakesh. The death toll has reached over 2,901 so far, estimated to increase by the day. The country is still experiencing violent aftershocks. 

MARRAKECH, Morocco — On Friday, August 8, 2023, at around 11:00 p.m., as my partner and I watched television, we felt the ground move beneath us. It felt like a boat being rocked by violent waves. The walls of the house started shaking, and the electricity went out.

Completely in the dark and afraid for our lives, we rushed to grab our infant daughter and ran outside. We had no time to think about taking anything with us, not even the house keys. Grappling with fear and panic, we just wanted to get out as quickly as possible. Standing outside in our pajamas, barefoot in the cold, we watched our neighbors escaping out of their apartments.  

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The earthquake in Morocco shook violently around us, we held on to each other, praying for our lives

We all grouped together in the parking lot, staring at our building and wondering, “Will it collapse?” We never experienced an earthquake this powerful before. It was so violent, we felt unsafe everywhere, immersed in what felt like a waiting game. My heart beat out of my chest as I tried to keep calm for my family’s sake.

Waiting for what felt like an eternity, I imagined something falling on my head and crushing me at any moment. Every second seemed to be extended as we held our breath, expecting the world to collapse around us. That night, my family and I slept in the car until 5:00 a.m., too scared to go back inside.  

Although we lived nearly 70 kilometers away from the earthquake’s epicenter, we still endured severe damages from the violence. I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been for those at the center of it.

When we finally felt safe enough to go back into the apartment building, we brought down blankets and pillows and slept in the lobby. It seemed like the best option, in case anything happened again. My partner’s family called to check on us and relayed a devastating message. Some of our friends died, crushed in the rubble.

Immersed in what felt like a bad dream, I thought of the areas most affected. My mind drifted to al-Haouz and the beautiful mountains. My heart sank.

The earthquake wiped out entire villages in the mountains. The gorgeous old buildings and gardens that once adorned them turned into piles of sand. All the wonderful memories I held in my mind – places I visited and people I saw regularly – they were all gone in the blink of an eye. When we turned on the news to assess the situation, we heard a stunning declaration. Very few people survived in some of those places I loved.

We suspected the damage from the earthquake would be bad, yet we never expected something so catastrophic. Tears flooded my eyes as I looked at the images on screen – images of the ruins and roadways cracked open.

This is my home, my people, my country. Yet I felt utterly helpless to do anything about it. The day after the earthquake, we experienced over 30 powerful aftershocks. Some felt mild, while others scared us so badly we rushed back out of the apartment building.

Despite knowing the worst was over, we continued to feel uneasy and scared. In fact, the entire experience left us traumatized. Our home no longer brings me a sense of safety and comfort. Instead, every single moment spent inside fills me with restless anxiety.

Despite the collective trauma, ‘Our spirits will never waiver

Since the earthquakes in Morocco, people continue to sleep outside every night, too fearful to be in the building which now feels like a trap. My nights are restless, and sleep alludes me. My mind remains stuck on the events that day – replaying them over and over in my head. I think of the families who died, the familiar places I loved which lay in ruin, and the bodies trapped underneath the rubble.

My heart has broken for my country. The only solace I have is from seeing communities come together in light of this tragedy. People’s humanity emerged right away. As Moroccans, we share a strong solidarity and that is more apparent then ever now. Thousands of people have hit the streets, giving out food, medical aid, clothing, blankets, and water bottles.

Some drove out to surrounding areas to search for those in need of help. Women emerged outside with meals they cooked to hand out. We all support one another, regardless of who you are or where you came from.

Despite the strong urge to sit at home crying about the horrible events that unfolded before our eyes, we force ourselves to do something about it. Even today, a week since the disaster, we remain anxious and agitated. We continue to heal from the damage this inflicted on all of us, and we still feel the aftershocks that keep coming.

While we must accept that a lot of places might never be rebuilt again, we can at least find comfort in knowing our spirits and our love for our country will never waiver.

The feature photo in this story is an uploaded work by alyaoum24 from YouTube, and shared via Wikimedia Commons under a CC BY license.

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