CHURCH IN MOROCCO: POPE OFFERS PRAYERS AFTER DEADLY QUAKE KILLS MORE THAN 2,800 PEOPLE
By Maria-Pia Negro Chin
(OSV News) — A powerful earthquake struck Morocco the night of Sept. 8, killing more than 2,800 people, with the numbers expected to rise as rescuers continue to search through the rubble. Search and rescue teams continue their attempt to reach those in remote villages closer to the earthquake's epicenter.
The deadly quake's epicenter was reported to be in the High Atlas mountains, about 44.7 miles (72 kilometers) southwest of historic Marrakech, a city of about 840,000 people. The earthquake struck shortly after 11 p.m. local time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which said its preliminary magnitude was 6.8 and it lasted several seconds, with a 4.9 aftershock hitting the area minutes later.
The quake was the biggest to hit that part of the North African nation in 120 years, according to USGS.
Local media reported late Sept. 9 that Morocco's interior ministry confirmed the earthquake's death toll had surpassed 2,800. The ministry said there are over 2,800 people injured, with at least 1,404 in critical condition.
On Sept. 9, Pope Francis expressed his sorrow and "deep solidarity" with the people of the North African nation. In a telegram signed by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the pope prayed for the repose of the many who have died, healing for those who were wounded, and consolation for those who mourn the loss of their loved ones and homes, Vatican News reported.
With roads damaged or blocked, rescue teams had difficulty reaching the hardest-hit areas. The Associated Press reported that authorities are working to clear roads in Al Haouz province to allow passage for ambulances and aid to those affected.
However, Abderrahim Ait Daoud, head of the town of Talat N'Yaaqoub, told the media that large distances between mountain villages mean it will take time to learn the extent of the damage.
The BBC reported that many Moroccans "spent the night out in the open as the Moroccan government had warned them not to go back into their homes" in case of severe aftershocks.
Social media videos from Sept. 8 showed buildings collapsing and there were reports of people trapped amid the rubble in the city. "People were all in shock and panic. The children were crying and the parents were distraught," when the deadly earthquake hit, Abdelhak El Amrani told the Agence France-Presse news agency.
Ayoub Toudite, from the mountainside village of Moulay Brahim, told AP that his village was inhabitable after the earthquake. "We felt a huge shake like it was doomsday," he said. In 10 seconds, he said, everything was gone. "We are all terrified that this happens again," Toudite said.
Media reported that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened the G20 summit Sept. 9 with "heartfelt condolences" to everyone affected by the quake. Other world leaders expressed their condolences, with many countries — including France, the United States, Germany and Turkey — saying they are ready to assist Morocco following the disaster. Algeria, which severed diplomatic ties with Morocco in 2021, offered to open its airspace to allow humanitarian aid or medical evacuation flights, according to reports.
Morocco's King Mohammed VI has mobilized the country's military for search and rescue missions as well as a surgical field hospital, according to AP. Those whose homes were destroyed by the earthquake may have to sleep on the streets as night started to fall in Morocco, CNN reported. Earlier Sept. 9, the Royal Palace announced three days of national mourning following the disaster.
The Archdiocese of Rabat, which has churches in Marrakech and Ouarzazate that suffered minor material damage, urged prayers for those affected through a message posted on social media. "Let us pray with Our Lady of Morocco for the victims and their families," the archdiocese said.
A Sept. 9 statement from the archdiocese expressed solidarity with the victims "especially for those Moroccan families who are mourning or who have injured family members" and urged the faithful to pray and to help those affected.
"We are appealing for emotional and effective solidarity with those in distress at this time," said the statement posted on the archdiocesan website, adding that Caritas will be working to make aid available to help where the need is most urgent.
The director of Caritas Rabat will visit sites affected, and initial emergency aid is being prepared, according to a Caritas statement posted on the archdiocesan site.
Cardinal Cristóbal López of Rabat will preside over a Mass for all the victims Sept. 10.
"The Archbishop is appealing to all communities to pray at all Masses tomorrow, to express their compassion to the local authorities and to organize solidarity," the archdiocesan statement said. "May God help us to draw positive consequences from this painful event, by transforming our hearts into hearts of mercy, solidarity and tenderness towards our brothers and sisters in distress."