At 11:11 on Friday 8 September, 2023, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, the impact of which was felt across the country.
I had landed in Marrakech earlier that afternoon with Emily, a friend of mine, for a weekend of exploring and relaxing in the capital. We had just gotten into bed in our riad, a beautiful boutique property just on the edge of the world famous historic Medina. I remember specifically the time it happened because at 11:10, I turned to Emily and said "Ooh, it's almost 11:11, get ready to make your wish!" and that's when the shaking began.
Our entire room began to shake. At first, we were confused - "is that an earthquake?" "Earthquakes aren't supposed to happen in Morocco." "Are we going to die?"
Emily wrapped her body around mine and began to pray. We lay in bed, being shaken, for what felt like an eternity. It was a few minutes long and as we watched the room around us shake, we noted that nothing was falling off the walls and the property seemed to be sound. For that, we will forever be grateful. This riad was a safe haven, suffering no damage in what would turn out to be the worst earthquake in Moroccan history.
When the shaking stopped, we threw some clothes on, grabbed our backpacks with our valuables and - going against all cultural guidance of covering our knees as we were just in our pajama shorts - we joined the other guests of our riad. The only impact we could visibly see in our riad was that the pool in the courtyard had overflowed, sloshing water all across the main floor. We left our riad to stand in the street with what felt like the entire city and, in the late hours of the night, there were hardly any updates or news coverage to tell us what was going on. We felt one initial aftershock about fifteen minutes after the initial quake. We stayed outside in the warm night air for two hours, with no guidance and no idea what to do next. Many people chose to spend the night, and subsequent nights, on the street, for fear of aftershocks.
With our riad having sustained the 6.8 magnitude earthquake with no damage, we decided for ourselves that, if it could withstand that, it would survive any further shocks, which would, hopefully, be less intense. Just after 2:00am, we returned to our room and tried to get some sleep, unsure of what had just happened, and without any true grasp of the tragedy that had unfolded in the night.
The next morning, after just a few hours of restless sleep, we woke to the news that the earthquake had killed more than 300 people across the country - with that number expected to rise drastically. We had a quiet breakfast in the riad. We forewent our touristy plans and decided instead to make our way into the Medina to see for ourselves the impact.
We very quickly realized we had been in one of the safest parts of town. Just steps from our front door, we began to witness the immediate aftermath of the quake. We were some of the very first people on the scene. The normally bustling Medina, full of people shouting to sell their wares and barter for goods, was unusually quiet. A sense of profoundness hung in the air. Entire walls had crumbled, cars were crushed under rubble. Balconies had fallen off their supports, goods were strewn across the floors of the shops we walked past. As locals began to show up and open up their shops, cries broke out when they realized how much of their livelihoods were gone. We made our way through the streets, some intact, and some buried under mounds of rubble and dust.
I spoke to locals, and photographed what I saw. Every photo below of a shop was taken with permission.
As we began to document what we were witnessing, it was clear that there was a gap in international news sharing on-the-ground updates. I posted what we were seeing to my Instagram stories, which very quickly were viewed thousands of times. My footage was quickly picked up by international news outlets from what felt like every country across the globe - from Brazil to Japan, USA to the UK, Australia to Hungary and most places in between, as people were desperate for updates and information. I captured what I could, focusing on the reality of what was going on on the ground. News agencies reached out to ask if they could use my videos for their news reports that day, as their reporters were unable to be on the ground until the Sunday morning.
I am heartbroken at what I have lived through - but I also witnessed a profound sense of community and resilience. My heart is with the Moroccans who have a long road ahead of recovery and rebuilding, many of whom who have lost their homes and their loved ones. I am grateful I could feel of use in some way by bringing this story to the international news’ attention, as surivor's guilt and helplessness wracked through me.
I was intending to spend just shy of three weeks in Morocco, exploring the whole country. I felt that in the immediate aftermath, as people were struggling to rebuild their lives, many having lost loved ones and homes, that a touristy trip around the country was inappropriate. Having lived through this experience with them, I wanted the focus to be on those affected in the mountain villages beyond Marrakech where the destruction and casualties were the highest.
As such, I left Morocco early. I plan to come back as soon as I can. Many Moroccans rely on tourism as their sole source of income and a tragedy such as this should not deter those from coming to visit this incredible nation.
A disclaimer - my footage was used extensively for international news coverage of this event, which was beneficial for shedding light on the reality of what had occured and I felt I used my platform and my global reach for good. However, I declined multiple international interview requests as I did not feel my voice - as a foreign tourist - was the right one to be used for such an event.
- The Globe and Mail Canada: Rare, powerful earthquake in Morocco kills more than 1,300, damages historic buildings in Marrakesh
- Yahoo! News UK: Earthquake Leaves Piles of Rubble From Destroyed Buildings in Marrakech
- The National News UK: Flights continue to Morocco as earthquake death toll passes 1,000
- The Times: Morocco earthquake: nation mourns 1,000 dead as buildings destroyed in Marrakesh
- The Times: How earthquakes happen — and why Morocco was hit harder
- Wall Street Journal: Morocco Earthquake Kills More Than 1,000
- Wall Street Journal: Morocco Earthquake Kills More Than 1,300
- The Irish Times: Morocco earthquake: Death toll nears 2,700 as government defends slow response
- NBC News: Tourists describe moments earthquake struck Morocco: 'We don't know what to do next' also shared on NBC News' YouTube channel
- NBC News: Historic sites devastated in temblor: Recap
- BBC News: More than 1,000 dead after strong Morocco earthquake (photo captioned 'Stores in the historic city have also been damaged' credited as Reuters)
- Global News Canada: Death toll of powerful Morocco earthquake climbs to 2,000
- Good Morning America: Morocco earthquake updates: Over 2,900 killed in rare, powerful quake
- ABC News: Morocco earthquake live updates: At least 1,305 dead in rare, powerful quake
- BBC News: Las imágenes de destrucción que deja el devastador terremoto en Marruecos
- Global News Canada: Morocco earthquake: At least 1,000 dead, 670 injured in magnitude 7.2 tremor and on Global News' YouTube channel
- Yahoo! News: Earthquake Leaves Piles of Rubble From Destroyed Buildings in Marrakech
- NBC News: More than 2,000 dead after powerful earthquake in Morocco
- Tagesspiegel Germany: After the earthquake in Morocco: Impressions from a country hit
- Reuters: Earthquake witness in Marrakech walks around World Heritage site to inspect damage
- Reuters: "There are fears of aftershocks" says earthquake witness in Marrakech's medina
- Reuters: "we're not sure what to do next" says earthquake witness in Marrakesh's medina
- Kake.com by ABC News: Powerful earthquake strikes Morocco, killing more than 1,000 and damaging historic Marrakech
- CBC Radio-Canada: Repercussions of the earthquake from Morocco to Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean
- Storyful: Earthquake Leaves Piles of Rubble From Destroyed Buildings in Marrakech
- Vecernji Hungary: Katastrofalan potres pogodio Maroko: Uništene zgrade, stotine ljudi poginulo
- @CGTNEurope: More than 1,000 people are dead and hundreds more injured after the deadliest earthquake to hit Morocco since 1960
- EL PAÍS: El terremoto en Marruecos, en imágenes
- Radio-Canada: Comunidad marroquí se moviliza en Quebec para ayudar a las víctimas del terremoto
- Infobae: The dramatic story of an Argentine woman who survived the earthquake in Morocco: “I thought I could die at any moment”
- G1: veja imagens da destruição provocada pelo forte tremor no Marrocos
- Politiken Denmark: Røde Kors om jordskælvet: Folk ved ikke, hvor de skal løbe hen
- Paraiba Noticia: Tragedy: The death toll has exceeded 2,000 due to the earthquake that hit the central region of Morocco
- NOTÍCIAS: Em telegrama, Papa expressa dor por vítimas de terremoto no Marrocos
- Tokyo-np:「あまりの揺れで外へ」 モロッコ訪問中の石川・白山市長
- Nishinippon Japan:「あまりの揺れで外へ」
- Nippon Japan: 他の言語で読む
- Okinawa Times:「あまりの揺れで外へ」 モロッコ訪問中の石川・白山市長