Tahar Ben Jelloun – The poor, first victims

The earthquake that struck southern Morocco measured 7 on the Richter scale

Tahar Ben Jelloun – The poor, first victims

The earthquake that struck southern Morocco measured 7 on the Richter scale. More powerful than the earthquake which was a great tragedy in 1960 in Agadir (5.7) or in Al Hoceïma in 2004 (6.3). The magnitude is also higher than what hit Japan or China recently. The tremors were felt in several cities of the country, notably in Rabat, Essaouira, Casablanca, Tiznit, and even in neighboring countries. The epicenter was located at 30.92 degrees north latitude and 8.42 degrees west longitude, according to the German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ).

Located in the Haouz region, Morocco's breadbasket, in the commune of Ighil, this earthquake left more than 1,000 dead and 672 injured, and it is feared that the number of victims will continue to increase. The famous Jemaa el-Fna square was hit. A minaret has fallen. Everything that was built without earthquake precautions was affected. Even though help arrived quickly, panic is visible in the city of Marrakech and its surroundings while many residents are still under the rubble.

Moroccans remember or have heard of Agadir, which was wiped off the map one morning in 1960. It is a tragedy which is part of the country's memory and whose history is transmitted from generation to generation. For the oldest, the memory of Agadir is there. And he's still scary. A fatality against which nothing can be done. Except that, since 1960, all modern constructions have obeyed anti-seismic rules to resist earthquakes. However, these precautions were not respected by the farmers, who were often poor and uninformed of the risks of earthquakes.

They believe that life and death are in the hands of God and that, against divine will, no one can do anything. In the Haouz region, the houses which fell on their occupants at 11:11 p.m. are traditional, simple houses, often made of adobe. This is the case in all the Moroccan countryside. The earthquake caused all the traditional buildings to collapse in the countryside and also in the medina of Marrakech. For fear of aftershocks, people took to the streets, and some slept in parks, far from any construction.

We are witnessing completely understandable scenes of panic. Desolation and helplessness despite the help which was very quick to the scene. I called family in Casablanca and Marrakech. People felt the earthquake well. They were scared and took to the streets. After spending the night outside, they returned home, worried.

Irrational interpretations are rife. The earthquake is a warning from Allah, even a punishment because morality is no longer respected. This is the mentality of believers and fatalists. But Morocco is crossed by moving tectonic plates. We know it, but we forget that one day these plates will collide and cause a great earthquake.

In sixty years, the country has been struck twice in the south, once in the north. We can say that Morocco has been warned. For fear of aftershocks, people are distraught and wander the streets of Marrakech, even if the fallen buildings are far from the city, apart from a few walls in the medina and Jemaa el-Fna square.

It is the poor who die first. Poor because they live in the countryside, build their houses with their hands, using precarious materials, rammed earth, clay. They didn't think about the earthquake. And they are the ones who lie under the rubble of the houses built with their hands.