A powerful earthquake struck Morocco on Friday night, killing and injuring thousands of people and devastating rural towns near the southwestern city of Marrakesh, one of the deadliest quakes in the country in decades, according to the Moroccan authorities.
Dozens of countries have offered assistance, but the government has been slow to allow international aid and foreign medical teams to enter the country. Search-and-rescue teams have continued to trickle into the disaster zone to try to extract victims trapped under the rubble, but some areas were still out of reach.
On Wednesday night, the interior ministry announced that the death toll had increased to 2,946, according to Moroccan state television, with a majority in the mountainous Al Haouz region, and 5,674 wounded.
Here’s what we know about the earthquake and its aftermath.
Around 11:11 p.m. on Friday, an earthquake with a magnitude of at least 6.8 tore through the countryside near Marrakesh to devastating effect. The quake flattened homes in villages across the High Atlas Mountains, tore up roads and shook Marrakesh’s ancient buildings, prompting residents to pour into the streets.
Residents in the region often built fragile mud-brick homes lacking strong foundations. Although the authorities have sought to improve earthquake resiliency in recent years, in part by passing more stringent building codes, many Moroccans still live in the frail structures.
The tremors could be felt as far as Spain and Portugal, more than 550 miles away, according to the United States Geological Survey. Aftershocks, including a 4.9-magnitude tremor about 20 minutes after the main quake, have sporadically rattled the area.
The death toll is expected to rise as rescue teams, hampered by mountainous terrain and roads clogged with rubble, struggle to reach all the affected areas.
The disaster is the deadliest earthquake in Morocco since a 5.9-magnitude quake in 1960 devastated the coastal city of Agadir, about 150 miles southwest of Marrakesh, killing at least 12,000 people and leaving thousands homeless.
Marrakesh and its environs are a hub for tourism, which is a central pillar of the country’s $134 billion economy, alongside agriculture. The quake could deal a blow to the industry, and consequently to a Moroccan economy already feeling the pain of drought and rising commodity prices.
How has Morocco responded?
The Moroccan authorities have mobilized military and civilian responders to rescue survivors, clear rubble and provide emergency housing. The government has said it will invest billions of Moroccan dirhams, equivalent to hundreds of millions of dollars, to rehabilitate shattered roads and damaged schools.
But some Moroccans have criticized the government response, calling it dangerously ineffective and saying it wasted critical time. Rescue teams took days to reach some survivors, who felt they had been abandoned by the authorities.
Almost four days after the deadly quake, many in the affected zones still lacked electricity and running water, and emergency medical workers had yet to reach all the zones affected by the disaster.
Experts say the first three days after a quake constitute a golden window to save those trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings. And relief workers say displaced Moroccans run the risk of disease and heat exposure in the makeshift tent camps that now dot roads south of Marrakesh.
With official aid lagging, many Moroccans have been organizing their own impromptu relief convoys: trucks laden with blankets, food and water.
Mohammad VI, the king and head of state, has remained generally tight-lipped about the situation. It was many hours before he issued a public statement after the earthquake’s devastation became apparent, and he has yet to address the nation. On Tuesday night, he visited some of the wounded at a Marrakesh hospital.
Has Morocco limited international aid?
Dozens of countries, including the United States, promptly offered to send humanitarian assistance after the quake. But Morocco has appeared reluctant to approve some of it.
So far, it has officially accepted assistance from Britain, Spain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, according to the interior ministry, although some teams operated by aid groups like Doctors Without Borders are also now operating in the country.
“We have brought some additional experts to Morocco right now, and we’re on standby waiting for a request for assistance,” Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the secretary general of the United Nations, told CNN on Monday.
The response contrasts with that of Turkey when it experienced a major earthquake in February. An enormous international aid effort descended on the country, with teams sent by governments from all over the world.
Germany’s civil defense had readied a 50-person team to send to the affected areas of Morocco over the weekend. But because no formal request was submitted to it, the team was eventually ordered to stand down on Sunday, the agency wrote on social media.
In a statement published by Moroccan state television, the interior ministry said officials had “precisely analyzed the needs on the ground” and would accept aid if necessary going forward. “A lack of coordination in these situations could be counterproductive,” the ministry said.
On Wednesday, Australia said it would allocate about a million Australian dollars, equivalent to $641,000, for local relief groups providing “immediate lifesaving assistance” on the ground in Morocco.
Aida Alami contributed reporting from Marrakesh.