'Everyone was screaming, shouting, running': British and US holidaymakers in Marrakesh describe terrifying moment they scrambled to take cover during earthquake as hotel walls crumbled forcing them to sleep on sunbeds

  • Post category:news
  • Reading time:16 min(s) read

  • At least 820 people are known to have been killed in the 7.2 magnitude quake 
  • Have you been impacted by the earthquake? Email elizabeth.haigh@mailonline.co.uk 

British and US holidaymakers stranded in Morocco in the aftermath of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake have told how they escaped the ‘terrifying’ tremor, as more than 820 people were confirmed to have died.

Morocco’s biggest earthquake in over 120 years struck south of Marrakesh on Friday night, killing at least 820 people and leaving more than 670 injured as the desperate scramble to save those trapped begins.

As relatives in the UK desperately try to contact their loved ones in the Atlas mountains, a popular trekking area which was also the epicentre of the earthquake, those in Marrakesh described waking up to ‘a stream of ambulances’ in the city.

Footage shared on social media showed a massive cloud of dust rising in Marrakesh – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and hugely popular tourist town – as buildings collapsed and people fled for their lives. 

The earthquake, which measured 7.2 on the Richter scale, struck Morocco’s Atlas Mountains and caused tremors as far away as Portugal, has wiped out entire families as witnesses describe ‘unbearable screaming and crying’.

British holidaymakers from Italy, Portugal and Spain all reported feeling the tremor to MailOnline. 

Have you been impacted by the Moroccan earthquake? If safe to do so, email elizabeth.haigh@mailonline.co.uk 

Helen Morris told MailOnline the earthquake was 'traumatising' as she camped out on the grass overnight in front of her hotel

Helen Morris told MailOnline the earthquake was ‘traumatising’ as she camped out on the grass overnight in front of her hotel

Ria Lucas, 26, arrived in Marrakesh with her parents, brother and fiancé on Friday night

Ria Lucas, 26, arrived in Marrakesh with her parents, brother and fiancé on Friday night

A woman is devastated as she sees her earthquake-damaged house in Marrakesh

A woman is devastated as she sees her earthquake-damaged house in Marrakesh

Rescue workers search for survivors in a collapsed house in Moulay Brahim, Al Haouz province

Rescue workers search for survivors in a collapsed house in Moulay Brahim, Al Haouz province

British holidaymaker Debra Wilton, who arrived at the Rui Tikida Garden Hotel in Marrakesh with her husband two hours before the quake hit, told MailOnline the hotel descended into ‘absolute chaos’.

She said: ‘We arrived and headed to the bar, and that’s when the earthquake happened.

‘The whole building just shook it was so scary. The staff were running around like headless chickens, our TUI reps did not know what to do. It was just horrendous.’

Although no guests at the hotel were injured, Ms Wilton said a member of staff was hurt, but an ambulance arrived swiftly to take them to hospital.

She added: ‘My niece’s husband along with another guest had to use a crowbar to help three people trapped in the lift. There was no real emergency plan. 

‘We were all then told to stay outside and then had to spend night at front of hotel sleeping on towels, blankets. Truly horrendous.’

She added that among guests told to stay outside of hotel buildings were several people in wheelchairs, as well as the elderly.

‘We’re ok we’re just shellshocked. There is damage to the hotel, with cracks in the walls, lots of missing plaster in rooms on the third floor. People don’t know if they are safe to sleep in.’

Abhay Ashiani, 25, from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, is currently in Marrakesh with two friends. 

He described the quake as a ‘nerve-wracking experience’: ‘We were out for dinner and we were on the rooftop.

‘All of a sudden everything shook, people were scrambling. We saw a huge cloud of smoke coming from the Minaret in the square.

‘The initial thought was is this act of terrorism and then your realise it’s an earthquake and we need to get outside.

‘We spent the entire night sitting poolside on pool chairs, but the staff were amazing, bringing us drinks and towels to keep us warm.’

Mr Ashiani said the city was like a ‘ghost town’ on Saturday morning: ‘You’ve got a lot of people clearing up the rubble, people with suitcases just sitting, looking aimless, streets that are just blocked, everyone is doing their bit to get involved and help clean up.

‘We’ve heard nothing from the government, I’ve had no information from RyanAir and it’s been quite difficult trying to get in touch with them. My friends are a bit shaken up but I’m really glad we are together.’

US tourist Laneishia Waters arrived in Marrakesh at 11am local time on Friday. She told MailOnline the quake, which lasted between 20 seconds and a minute ‘took them by surprise’. 

Helen Morris (right) is visiting Morocco with her friend and says the quake has not put her off

Helen Morris (right) is visiting Morocco with her friend and says the quake has not put her off

Videos posted by tourists showed hundreds of people who were evacuated from hotels in Marrakesh

Videos posted by tourists showed hundreds of people who were evacuated from hotels in Marrakesh

Tourists at some Marrakesh hotels slept outside on sunbeds following the earthquake

Tourists at some Marrakesh hotels slept outside on sunbeds following the earthquake

A man walks with his belongings through the rubble in an alleyway in the earthquake-damaged old city in Marrakesh

A man walks with his belongings through the rubble in an alleyway in the earthquake-damaged old city in Marrakesh

Many of the older buildings in Marrakesh were completely destroyed overnight

Many of the older buildings in Marrakesh were completely destroyed overnight

A man carries his belongings through the rubble in the old city area of Marrakesh on Saturday morning

A man carries his belongings through the rubble in the old city area of Marrakesh on Saturday morning

Residents evacuate through the rubble in the earthquake-damaged old city of Marrakesh

Residents evacuate through the rubble in the earthquake-damaged old city of Marrakesh

Rescuers carry a search operation following the powerful earthquake, in Amizmiz

Rescuers carry a search operation following the powerful earthquake, in Amizmiz

A view of a severely damaged building close to Marrakesh

A view of a severely damaged building close to Marrakesh

Damage in the historic city of Marrakech, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco

Damage in the historic city of Marrakech, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco

Vehicles caught up in the debris were left completely destroyed

Vehicles caught up in the debris were left completely destroyed

A historic mosque in Marrakesh was left badly damaged by the quake, which hit at just after 11pm on Friday

A historic mosque in Marrakesh was left badly damaged by the quake, which hit at just after 11pm on Friday

Moroccans raced to donate blood for those injured after the devastating quake

Moroccans raced to donate blood for those injured after the devastating quake

Ms Waters said: ‘The whole building was moving. It was scary, as east coast Americans we hear stories of bombings but we don’t experience quakes. 

‘When we opened our fifth floor apartment rental the building was eerily quiet except for the sound of a few people racing down the steps to outside.

READ MORE: Morocco earthquake: Agonising race against time to find survivors begins as rescuers trawl through rubble in Marrakesh after 7.2 magnitude quake left at least 820 dead

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‘We threw our clothes and shoes on and followed suit. There were so many people huddled, some with no shoes on and for so many people to be outside it was so quiet. You expect city noises. You heard ambulances.

‘This morning we woke to 600 plus dead and a stream of ambulance sirens continuing. 

‘Our building is cracked and splintered and when we walked onto one portion we could hear this brand new building cracking and creaking.’

Other British tourists described sleeping on sunloungers overnight or on the grass outside their hotel.

Helen Morris, who was also staying at the Riu Tikida Gardens Hotel, said: ‘The hotel has sustained some damage but thankfully everyone appears well after a pretty terrifying experience.

‘We are very fortunate that our hotel and TUI reps are trying their best to look after us in an unprecedented situation for us all. Pray for the Moroccan people in what is a very difficult time for them.’

‘It was a pretty traumatic experience all around. We were just trying to get to sleep when it hit. It took a few seconds to realise what was happening. 

‘We tried to take cover under a desk in the room. Paintings started falling off the walls, everything was shaking heavily and the rumble was very loud. After about 30 to 40 seconds we fled outside and remained there all night.

‘Everyone was screaming, shouting, running. A lot of people were shaking in shock long after the earthquake stopped. 

‘We had to move well away from the buildings, which meant we had to sleep out the front of the hotel, away from the pools too, due to the proximity of the buildings. We slept on the concrete floor or grass with pool towels as blankets, which were distributed by the hotel staff during the night. Unfortunately we could not use the sun loungers.

‘We are due to fly home Monday and I imagine those plans won’t change unless circumstances change. I did take a look at flights but they all seem to be full, so we just need to ride it out a couple more days. 

‘I’m sure that TUI will be coming around to speak to us during the course of the day. They were very supportive last night and stayed present throughout.’

MailOnline has contacted TUI for comment. 

Search and rescue teams are facing tricky conditions as they try and save lives of those crushed under rubble

Search and rescue teams are facing tricky conditions as they try and save lives of those crushed under rubble

Rescue workers search for survivors in a collapsed house in Moulay Brahim, Al Haouz province

Rescue workers search for survivors in a collapsed house in Moulay Brahim, Al Haouz province

People evacuate the old city area of Marrakesh after the 7.2 magnitude quake

People evacuate the old city area of Marrakesh after the 7.2 magnitude quake

Two people shelter at a store front rather than risking sleeping in their homes in Marrakesh

Two people shelter at a store front rather than risking sleeping in their homes in Marrakesh

A digger is seen at a property as rescue efforts got underway in Marrakesh

A digger is seen at a property as rescue efforts got underway in Marrakesh

Rescuers carry a search operation following the powerful earthquake, in Amizmiz

Rescuers carry a search operation following the powerful earthquake, in Amizmiz

 Fellow Brit Ria Lucas, 26, arrived in Marrakesh with her parents, brother and fiancé on Friday night.

She said: ‘It’s been chaotic. We only arrived last night and the earthquake happened during check-in, even the staff didn’t know what to do. The whole hotel slept outside on the sunbeds.

‘We thought it was a large truck going past at first, but then the lights above us started swinging and little bits of plaster started to fall from the ceiling. The staff rushed us outside pretty quickly and it all seemed to be over as fast as it had started.

‘Luckily our resort only has superficial damage and no injuries, but were constantly hearing sirens this morning.’

Gigi Sunley, 27, told how they was awoken while staying in the El Finn hotel, where they was staying with a friend, by the shaking.

They said: ‘My friend thought it was a train going through the building as she was half asleep. I woke up and started shouting ‘earthquake’ as the walls and floor were shaking and there were loud noises and bells outside. 

‘It was so unexpected and a complete out of body experience. We are so thankful to be safe in our hotel and sending our wishes and prayers to the country and want to know what we can do to help from here.’

A statement from Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on behalf of the Foreign Office this morning said: ‘Devastating news of a substantial earthquake just outside Marrakesh, Morocco. 

‘The UK is continuing to support British nationals in the region. We stand ready to help our Moroccan friends in whatever way we can.’

The Foreign Office added that anyone who is worried about a loved one can get in touch with officials by phoning 020 7008 5000.

Moroccan state TV reported the death toll had risen from an initial 300 to 820 by early on Saturday. The epicentre was 40 miles south of the popular tourist city.

The ministry wrote that most damage occurred outside of cities and towns, and the United States Geological Survey warned that the death toll was likely to rise significantly, because rural buildings were not built to sustain such earthquakes. 

Those in the city posted videos showing buildings reduced to rubble and dust, and parts of the famous red walls that surround the old city in Marrakesh damaged. 

Other footage shows rescue attempts are well underway, with locals helping to try and free those trapped using their bare hands. 

But there are warnings the strong quake means it will take time to reach mountain villages and other smaller settlements outside of Morocco’s cities, meaning the true extent of the damage and people harmed remains unknown. 

The Interior Ministry urged calm, saying in its televised statement on the death toll that the quake had hit the provinces of Al Haouz, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, Azilal, Chichaoua and Taroudant. Officials added that most of those killed will be in hard to reach settlements outside of the cities.

Elsewhere urgent supplies were seen being loaded onto trucks by the Civil Defence department, ready for distribution to those in need. 

Tourists and others posted videos of people screaming and evacuating restaurants in the city as throbbing club music played.

Photos from Saturday morning showed buildings across Marrakesh with severe damage

Photos from Saturday morning showed buildings across Marrakesh with severe damage

At least 820 people are known to have died, with more than 320 injured

At least 820 people are known to have died, with more than 320 injured

Many of Marrakesh's historic buildings have been badly damaged or totally destroyed

Many of Marrakesh’s historic buildings have been badly damaged or totally destroyed

Cars were left buried under mountains of rubble as Moroccans tried to come to terms with the severity of the quake

Cars were left buried under mountains of rubble as Moroccans tried to come to terms with the severity of the quake

Piles of rubble were left in the historic city of Marrakesh following the earthquake

Piles of rubble were left in the historic city of Marrakesh following the earthquake

Residents of Ouarzazate, in the Atlas Mountains, are pictured in the streets after the earthquake on Friday night

Residents of Ouarzazate, in the Atlas Mountains, are pictured in the streets after the earthquake on Friday night

Authorities say most of the dead are in smaller towns and villages high in the mountains

Authorities say most of the dead are in smaller towns and villages high in the mountains

The 7.2 magnitude quake toppled buildings and left rubble strewn around the city

The 7.2 magnitude quake toppled buildings and left rubble strewn around the city

Dust clouds rose into the air across the city during and after the 7.2 magnitude quake

Dust clouds rose into the air across the city during and after the 7.2 magnitude quake

Supplies for those in need are packed into a Civil Protection truck following the quake

Supplies for those in need are packed into a Civil Protection truck following the quake

A car in Marrakech is crushed by fallen debris on Friday night

A car in Marrakech is crushed by fallen debris on Friday night

Residents in many cities in Morocco were too scared to sleep in their homes last night for fear of further collapses

Residents in many cities in Morocco were too scared to sleep in their homes last night for fear of further collapses

Residents of the city took shelter on the streets instead of staying in potentially dangerous buildings

Residents of the city took shelter on the streets instead of staying in potentially dangerous buildings

Families took shelter on the streets as they waited for emergency relief

Families took shelter on the streets as they waited for emergency relief

Among those staying in the open on Friday night were the elderly and children

Among those staying in the open on Friday night were the elderly and children

Rescue workers survey the rubble in Marrakech on Friday night

Rescue workers survey the rubble in Marrakech on Friday night

People flee a collapsing building in the midst of the earthquake's tremors

People flee a collapsing building in the midst of the earthquake’s tremors

Tourists and others posted videos of people screaming and evacuating restaurants in the city as throbbing club music played

Tourists and others posted videos of people screaming and evacuating restaurants in the city as throbbing club music played

Global leaders offer support to quake-hit Morocco 

Messages of support began to roll in from around the world on Saturday. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz posted condolences on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. 

French President Emmanuel Macron said Saturday he was ‘devastated’ by the earthquake in Morocco, which has killed at least 820 people, and offered to help relief efforts.

‘We are all devastated after the terrible earthquake in Morocco,’ Macron said on X, formerly known as Twitter, while onboard a flight to the G20 summit in India. ‘France stands ready to help with first aid.’

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez offered his condolences on Saturday to relatives of the victims of a ‘terrible’ earthquake in Morocco that killed over 600 people.

‘All my solidarity and support to the people of Morocco in the wake of this terrible earthquake… Spain is with the victims of this tragedy and its families,’ he wrote.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, currently hosting the Group of 20 summit of the world’s largest economies, wrote that ‘India is ready to offer all possible assistance to Morocco in this difficult time.’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday offered support to Morocco after ‘this devastating earthquake’.

‘We will support our Moroccan brothers in every way in this difficult hour.’

A U.N. spokesperson said that ‘the United Nations is ready to assist the government of Morocco in its efforts to assist the impacted population.’

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Rather than return to concrete buildings, men, women and children stayed out in the streets worried about aftershocks and other reverberations that could cause their homes to sway.

Houda Outassaf, a local resident, said he was walking around the square when the ground began to shake.

‘It was a truly staggering sensation. We’re safe and sound, but I’m still in shock,’ he said.

‘I have at least 10 members of my family who died… I can hardly believe it, as I was with them no more than two days ago.’

Though earthquakes are relatively rare in North Africa, a magnitude 5.8 tremor struck near Agadir and caused thousands of deaths in 1960.

‘Earthquakes of this size in the region are uncommon, but not unexpected,’ said the USGS. 

‘Since 1900, there have been no earthquakes M6 (magnitude 6) and larger within 500 km of this earthquake, and only 9 M5 (magnitude 5) and larger earthquakes.’ 

The USGS predicted that ‘significant damage is likely and the disaster is potentially widespread’, noting that many people in the area reside in structures that are ‘highly vulnerable to earthquake shaking’.

The epicenter of Friday’s tremor was high in the Atlas Mountains roughly 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) south of Marrakesh. It was also near Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa and Oukaimeden, a popular Moroccan ski resort.

The USGS said the epicentre was 18 kilometers (11 miles) below the Earth’s surface, while Morocco’s seismic agency put it at 8 kilometers (5 miles) down.

The quake was felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria, according to the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere and Algeria’s Civil Defense agency, which oversees emergency response.

People in the capital city of Rabat, about 350 km north of Ighil, and in the coastal town of Imsouane, about 180 km to its west, also fled their homes, fearing a stronger quake, according to witnesses.

In Casablanca, some 250 km north of Ighil, people who spent the night in the streets were too scared to return to their homes.

Moroccans posted videos showing buildings reduced to rubble and dust after the earthquake

Moroccans posted videos showing buildings reduced to rubble and dust after the earthquake

People are seen in Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco, in the aftermath of the quake

People are seen in Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco, in the aftermath of the quake

Moroccans use flashlights to try and see where a person is trapped on Friday night

Moroccans use flashlights to try and see where a person is trapped on Friday night

Locals in Casablanca are seen on Friday night outdoors, for fear of aftershocks

Locals in Casablanca are seen on Friday night outdoors, for fear of aftershocks

People gather on a street in Casablanca, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco

People gather on a street in Casablanca, following a powerful earthquake in Morocco

A man is seen trying to rescue someone from the rubble on Friday night in Morocco

A man is seen trying to rescue someone from the rubble on Friday night in Morocco

A dazed and bloodied man stands outside the rubble of a building

A dazed and bloodied man stands outside the rubble of a building

Dramatic footage shared on TikTok showed tourists in Marrakesh in the aftermath of the earthquake, with the dust from the buildings rising behind them

Dramatic footage shared on TikTok showed tourists in Marrakesh in the aftermath of the earthquake, with the dust from the buildings rising behind them

Panicked young women are seen trying to get away from the collapsing buildings

Panicked young women are seen trying to get away from the collapsing buildings

Hospitals in Marrakesh reportedly saw a ‘massive influx’ of injured people.

In 2004, at least 628 people were killed and 926 injured when a quake hit Al Hoceima in northeastern Morocco, and in 1960 a magnitude 6.7 quake in Agadir killed more than 12,000.

The 7.3-magnitude El Asnam earthquake in neighbouring Algeria in 1980 was regionally one of the most destructive earthquakes in recent history.

It killed 2,500 people and left at least 300,000 homeless.

The British Foreign Office has been contacted for comment. 




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