Montreal councillor shaken after Morocco earthquake, as Canadians try to reach family
Published Saturday, September 9, 2023 4:52PM EDT Last Updated Sunday, September 10, 2023 2:21PM EDT
A Montreal city councillor in Marrakech, Morocco says he's safe but shaken following a powerful earthquake Friday that killed more than 1,300 people in the North African country.
Serge Sasseville is in Morocco on vacation. He said he was just outside central Marrakech at the time of the quake.
"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.
Sasseville said people around him are safe, but "still shaken."
So far, 4,800 people have registered with the Canadian embassy in Morocco, said federal Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly in an interview with CBC News. She said at least 31 Canadians reached out for information and none of them reached out for help.
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 Twitter. "I am actively engaged with our mission in Morocco and my team at HQ to assess needs on the ground," Joly wrote on social media.
The rare, powerful earthquake has killed at least 1,305 and injured about 1,832, but those numbers are expected to climb. 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.”
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, formerly known as Twitter, 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.