It was night when the earthquake hit Morocco, with many people already in bed. But the quake, measuring 6.8, soon led to people fleeing their homes in sheer panic.
An aftershock, of 4.9 magnitude, struck 19 minutes later.
It is now known that thousands have died – but the final death toll is still unclear. While the epicentre was in the High Atlas Mountains, many died in Marrakesh, some 44 miles away.
Abdelhak El Amrani, 33, who lives in Marrakesh, told AFP: “We felt a violent tremor, and I realised it was an earthquake. I could see buildings moving.
“Then I went outside and there were a lot of people there. People were all in shock and panic. The children were crying and the parents were distraught.”
Michael Bizet, a French national who owns three properties in Marrakesh’s old town, told the news agency: “I thought my bed was going to fly away. I went out into the street half-naked and immediately went to see my riads [traditional Moroccan houses].
“It was total chaos, a real catastrophe, madness.”
British journalist Martin Jay, who lives in Morocco, said he was woken by the sound of screams.
He told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The first hint was my wife screaming. We both had nodded off to sleep – but not into deep sleep – just into that light slumber I suppose… and she started screaming, and I just sort of opened my eyes and couldn’t quite join the dots up.
“I couldn’t quite equate the situation, I couldn’t imagine I was in the middle of an earthquake.
“Everything was vibrating, everything, the bed, the floor, the four walls.”
He said people were told not to return to their homes.
“So you have this weird evening of almost every single town in Morocco, most people are sitting on the ground outside of their houses or apartment blocks, because they were afraid of the second earthquake which they predicted would come two hours later. Thank God it didn’t.”
Fellow Marrakesh resident Fayssal Badour had been driving when the quake hit at 23:11 local time.
“I stopped and realised what a disaster it was,” he told AFP. “The screaming and crying was unbearable.”
Mina Metioui said that, in Marrakesh, the noise sounded like “a fighter jet”, getting louder and louder.
“The next thing I see, my room is moving, pictures, frames started falling off the wall,” she told BBC News. “You know, things just started dropping off. That’s when I realised we’re going through some sort of an earthquake.
“It took a second what felt like minutes. Then I heard people screaming, getting out the property… it was really a horrible experience.”
Rescue efforts are now ongoing, with many buildings seriously damaged.
Montasir Itri, who lives in the mountain village of Asni, close to the epicentre, told Reuters: “Our neighbours are under the rubble and people are working hard to rescue them using available means in the village.”
Houda Outassaf had been walking around Jemaa el-Fna Square in Marrakesh when he felt the ground start to shake.
“It was a truly staggering sensation,” he told AFP. “We’re safe and sound but I’m still in shock.
“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.”
The historic city of Marrakesh is popular with tourists, attracting thousands each year.
Lorella Palmer, a British woman on holiday there, told BBC News: “The room just started shaking.”
“I think your brain doesn’t register straight away what is happening until the picture frames and the bed start shaking,” she said.
Source : BBC