The Morocco Earthquake’s Lasting Legacy

 

Bethany Butcher was the Medic on the 2024 Morocco: Kingdom of the West Cycling Tour. In this guest post, she looks at the continuing impact the recent devastating earthquake has had on the areas the riders had been cycling through towards the end of the tour.

Last week, TDA cycled through the High Atlas mountains in the penultimate week of its Kingdom of the West tour. It was another section where the riders faced heat, dust and lots of climbing but many of us found it tough for other reasons.

On September 8, 2023, at around 11pm, this region was hit by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake. It killed 2,900 people and injured 5,500 more. The epicentre was about 70 km southwest of Marrakech and severe damage was spread across the region. Ancient structures were destroyed in Marrakech and many more remote settlements in the Al Haouz province were completely flattened. Shocks were felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria and an additional 4.9 magnitude aftershock hit 20 minutes later.

Only eight months later, our tour left Marrakech, weaving up mountain passes and finding increasing numbers of tent settlements and modular housing. These were hosting entire villages of people with unsafe homes or homes that no longer existed. We passed several on our way through these valleys, some included mobile clinics and mosques set up with tarpaulins. There were deep scars across the landscape and evidence of landslides, destroyed aqueducts, electrical infrastructure and roads.

Tinmel Mosque – before and after

People were friendly shouting ‘bonjour’ and ‘allez’ as we passed. There were some signs of small businesses having been set up amongst the camps with barber shops and basic coke stops which we happily snacked from. Our destination that night was the 11th century Tinmel Mosque, previously the gem of the region. This has now sadly been very badly damaged and what is left is supported by extensive scaffolding. We stayed at a campsite 1 km from the mosque.

Our host was Youssef, an accommodating young man with perfect English, who was acting as a manager of the village and the mosque. We camped in a field near Cafe Ba Adam, run by a man named Mohammed. Riders and staff enjoyed an exciting Champions League semi-final in his packed cafe. Football crazy Moroccans drank strong espressos, smoked cigarettes and cheered on Bayern Munich and Real Madrid while many young children played snooker next to a memorial to the earthquake victims.  As the drama of the game ramped up, the atmosphere was fantastic, and we enjoyed sharing in the national obsession which is football in Morocco. Their links with Spain were obvious as many cheered on the Spaniards and clapped for Brahim Diaz, their homegrown superstar.

Youssef has lost plenty in the past year. Other staff describe seeing a free-standing hammam (a stone bathhouse) in the remaining town surrounding by flat, cleared ground. Youssef explained that this was once attached to his family’s home. Now only the hammam remains and he continues to make the best of his living situation in his tent. He has also lost loved ones that night including his grandmother. Interestingly, we camped near a river in which many riders enjoyed a soak after a hot day. He told us this was not there prior to the earthquake and the earth’s disruption has opened up a new spring and a new water source. This highlights the constant activity and instability of the planet we live on.

The next day, we pushed on over the dramatic Tizi n’Test mountain pass. Particularly on the descent, the road was rough and covered with debris from the quake. Some riders came across Cafe Sunset and another gentleman, Ibrahim. Barely anything of this building remained, only an eerie entrance facade behind which a hotel used to be. He showed us photos of a colourful lodging with several rooms, a terrace and a restaurant built into the hillside. The area would have been very popular with cyclists and motorbikes and, as the name suggests, a beautiful place to watch the sunset from the southern edge of the High Atlas. Nothing remained.

Sadly, the BBC reported a British cyclist was killed at the hotel the night it collapsed; he was found under the rubble in the aftermath. Ibrahim was there that night and I cannot imagine the fear and confusion he must have felt. He now lives down in the village and comes up the hill on his moped to his old business, hoping to salvage what he can. This is clearly going to take many years and much needed support from government and NGOs. He shared coffees with us, sold us trinkets and spoke to us about his experiences

We were all been moved by what we’ve seen. The extent of the devastation is enormous. We are also immeasurably impressed by the resilience of these communities. Our hosts have been kind and gracious and have shared what little they have with us openheartedly. We will share what we’ve seen and we wish them a prosperous and safer future.

Both TDA Global Cycling and a number of riders made a donation towards rehabilitation efforts in the village of Tinmel.

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1 Comment for "The Morocco Earthquake’s Lasting Legacy"

Beautifully written and very informative… a snap shot experience for those of us who cannot get to cycle there – thank you Bethany!

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