A devastating 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck near Marrakesh, Morocco, at around 11 p.m. on Friday night, killing more than 2,000 and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. The centuries-old Jewish Quarter in the heart of Marrakesh’s Old City was among the most severely affected areas, as homes and other aged structures crumbled to the ground and at least two historic synagogues were reported damaged. Residents and volunteers cleared the debris manually throughout the night and day, in anticipation of the arrival of heavier machinery and search-and-rescue help from abroad.
Hafida Sahraouia, a 50-year-old resident of the Jewish Quarter, was heartbroken as she looked over the ruins of her home. She compared the devastation to the aftermath of a bombing. Sahraouia recounted the horrifying moments leading up to her house’s collapse. “We were having dinner when the sounds of explosions filled the air,” she told AFP. “In a panic, I rushed outside with my children, only to witness our home collapsing shortly after. We’ve lost everything,” she said.
The official number of those killed at around midnight Sunday was at least 2,102, with another 2,059 or more injured, and 1,404 in critical condition. But officals caution that the full extent of casualties and damages could not yet be known given the widespread impact of the quake, whose epicenter was about 50 miles south of Marrakesh.
Israeli attorney Doron Darino, who was visiting Marrakesh for Shabbat, prayed at Chabad’s Al Fassayn synagogue on Friday night and when he returned the next day reported that the historic structure was badly damaged by the earthquake. The home of the family where he had Shabbat dinner was destroyed by the quake. Following the quake, he attended services on Shabbat morning at the Slat al-Azama Synagogue, built in 1492 by Jews who had been expelled from Spain, which was partially damaged.
Marrakesh has about 200 full-time Jewish residents, and thousands of Jewish tourists from around the world visit the ancient Jewish Quarter every year. The Old City appears on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and as much as seven percent of Morocco’s national economy comes from tourism to the Old City, where Rabbi Shimon and Rachel Lahiany serve as co-directors of Chabad of Marrakesh.
There are about 2,100 Jewish citizens of Morocco, with most living in the Casablanca area. According to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, there are 468 Israeli citizens currently in Morocco, all of whom have been accounted for.
Offers of support came in from Jewish communities around the world as word of the disaster spread following the conclusion of the Jewish Sabbath and Chabad emissaries reached out to Jewish residents and tourists. Chabad has served a key role in the Moroccan Jewish community since 1950. Earlier this year a historic conference of rabbis from Africa, the Middle East and Europe was hosted in Fez by Moroccan-born Rabbi Levi Banon and his U.S.-born wife, Chana, who have served as emissaries at Chabad-Lubavitch of Morocco since 2009, when Mrs. Raizel Raskin, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Morocco, appointed them to lead the next generation of Moroccan Jewry.