Canadians who are in Morocco say an earthquake that's killed more than 2,000 people and injured hundreds more in the North African country is "absolutely incredible" and "terrifying."
Fiona Richards of Nelson, B.C., who's on vacation in the old part of Marrakech, said she and friends from Vancouver were in a home's open courtyard when the shaking started Friday.
They weren't sure they were going to make it.
"During the rumbling, we were hiding under a doorway clutching each other. We were terrified, the house was shaking so hard, it was like the floors were moving," Richards said in a phone interview on Saturday.
"There were waves in the pool. We thought for sure the walls were coming down. We did not expect to get out of this without damage."
When it stopped, Richards said, "we could hear screaming and crying .. it was awful."
Their rental home escaped with only a few new cracks, Richards said, but bricks fell out of their neighbours' home and they're too frightened to go back into it.
Many buildings have fallen, she said, and people are sleeping outside in streets or other public spaces. In the markets, artisans' glasswork is all smashed.
Serge Sasseville, a Montreal city councillor who is also in Morocco on vacation, said he was just outside central Marrakech at the time of the quake.
Sassevilee said he and people around him are safe but "still shaken."
"People were drinking and eating and everybody was having fun, but suddenly ... the nightmare began," Sasseville said on the phone from his hotel room in the inland city. "I thought that somebody was making a joke and taking the carpet from under my seat because it was like the ground was swept from under my feet."
"It was absolutely incredible," he added.
He said he saw damaged buildings and people gathering in parks and school yards as he made his way back to his hotel downtown early Saturday morning. The neighbourhood around his hotel was not extensively damaged.
The quake's epicentre was about 70 kilometres southwest of Marrakech, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, a government agency that measures seismic activity. It struck at 11:11 p.m. local time.
A statement Saturday from Global Affairs Canada said it is not aware of any Canadian citizens injured or killed in the earthquake, and that Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly has been in contact with staff at the Canadian embassy in Morocco, who are all safe and accounted for.
The statement said so far, 4,763 people in Morocco have registered with the Registration of Canadians Abroad database. The department has been in contact with approximately 30 Canadian citizens in Morocco and is providing assistance, the statement noted.
"Canada and Morocco have a long-standing relationship, with strong people-to-people ties. Found throughout Canada, the vibrant Moroccan community embodies strength and resilience," the statement said.
"Our hearts are with the families and friends of the people who lost their lives in the earthquake, as well as with all people affected."
The minister has urged Canadians in Morocco to register with Global Affairs Canada. Those who need help should contact the federal Emergency Watch and Response Centre, which can provide emergency consular assistance, Joly said in a series of posts Saturday morning on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The rare, powerful earthquake has killed more than 2,000 people, and the toll was expected to rise as rescuers struggled Saturday to reach hard-hit remote areas. The 6.8-magnitude quake is the biggest to hit Morocco in 120 years.
Moroccan Montreal city councillor Abdelhaq Sari said Saturday that members of the local community have struggled to get information from rural areas of the country following the disaster.
“What I know about the tragedy is in the urban places ... we can have communication, we can have information," he said in a phone interview. "However when we go to the rural places it's very hard."
Sari said he was able to verify that members of his family in the capital city of Rabat are safe. However, he said the charitable organization where he serves as vice-chair, Orphan Sun, has had difficulty reaching its network in other parts of the country.
Mohamed Moutahir, chairperson of the organization — which supports African and Canadian orphans — said he spent the night trying to contact its partners in Morocco.
"I didn't sleep," he said. "I was in touch with them to get all the information, all the details how we can help."
Moutahir said he is already seeing a "surge of solidarity" mobilizing to help victims of the quake. He and Sari are calling on the Canadian government to help with aid efforts.
"Morocco is a is a friend of Canada," Sari said. "If we can help it will be very, very appreciated.”
Global Affairs Canada said "it stands ready to assist the people of Morocco at this difficult time and Minister Joly has asked the department to identify how best to offer that support."
There are roughly 100,000 Canadians of Moroccan decent, according to the latest census. About 81,000 Moroccan Canadians live in Quebec, and nearly half of that population is in Montreal. Several Quebec politicians took to social media Saturday to express their concern and solidarity for those affected by the disaster.
"My thoughts are with the Moroccan people," Premier François Legault wrote on X Friday night. “Marrakech, Rabat, Casablanca, Agadir, Essaouira, all magnificent cities that I have visited.”
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante wrote on X that "the images coming in from Morocco, after the country was hit by an earthquake, are heartbreaking."
"Tonight, an entire community has been shaken. My thoughts are with Montrealers of Moroccan origin. Our hearts go out to you.”
-- With files from The Associated Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2023.
Thomas MacDonald, Ritika Dubey and Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press