The death toll is rising following a catastrophic earthquake in Morocco late at night on Friday 8 September. Many hundreds of people have been killed and injured after the 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck.
The epicentre is about 70km (43 miles) southwest of Marrakech – the fourth-biggest city in Morocco, and by far the most popular draw for international visitors.
Thousands of British holidaymakers are in the area, with many more booked to go there this weekend and later in September. This is the travel picture – with much still unknown.
How many British holidaymakers are in the vicinity?
The Independent calculates from flight data that around 5,000-8,000 UK holidaymakers are in the Marrakech area. Many are staying in the ancient heart of the city, or in modern hotels on the outskirts.
Trekking in the Atlas mountains is also popular, particularly in autumn when temperatures start to drop.
Is Marrakech airport still open and operating?
A large number of UK flights arrived in Marrakech on Friday, including British Airways, easyJet and Tui from London Gatwick, easyJet from Luton, Ryanair from London Stansted and Tui from Birmingham and Manchester.
The return legs departed normally before the earthquake struck.
Since the earthquake flights at Marrakech airport have continue to operate normally. Saturday morning’s operations began with the usual Royal Air Maroc flight to Casablanca, followed by departures on Air France, Ryanair, Transavia and Tui to a number of French airports. Two Ryanair flights from Marrakech to Brussels and Beauvais in northern France have been cancelled.
Flights from UK airports on Saturday are scheduled as follows:
- British Airways from London Heathrow
- easyJet from Gatwick
- Ryanair from Manchester and Stansted (two flights)
- Wizz Air from Gatwick
Some of the aircraft are already in the air.
What are the options for British travellers who want to leave the area?
At present there are no plans for an airlift. In the absence of confirmation to the contrary, the assumption will be that you travel home as planned.
British Airways has put on a larger aircraft for its flight from Marrakech on Saturday evening, to allow as many BA passengers as possible who want to come home early to do so.
There are no seats on direct flights available on Sunday 10 September.
I am booked to travel to the Marrakech area imminently. Can I cancel?
Many thousands of people will be in this position: not wishing to put additional strain on a location enduring a humanitarian crisis; uncomfortable about going on holiday to a scene of such tragedy; or concerned about the possibility of after-shocks.
At present there are no clear grounds to cancel without penalty; the Foreign Office stops well short of warning against travel to the region, saying only: “You should follow local media and safety instructions from local authorities.”
The US Embassy in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, is telling American citizens: “Please exercise caution for the next 24 hours in case of additional earthquakes or aftershocks.
“A tsunami warning will also be in effect for coastal areas. Adhere to police instructions regarding road closures or traffic disruptions.”
What are the airlines saying?
These are the positions of the airlines who have responded to The Independent:
British Airways is offering flexibility to passengers booked to Marrakech in the next two weeks. A BA spokesperson said: “The welfare of our customers is our priority, and we have contacted our British Airways Holidays customers in Morocco to check that they’re safe.
“We are continuing to monitor the situation closely, and customers due to travel to or from Marrakech in the next two weeks can change their dates free of charge if they wish.”
EasyJet’s spokesperson said: “easyJet’s thoughts are with everyone affected by the earthquake in Morocco.
“The airports are open and our schedule to Morocco is operating as normal today. We are working hard to support affected customers and have upgraded flight EZY8706 from Marrakech to London Gatwick to a larger plane today and will continue to look at repatriation options based on customer demand.
“Customers scheduled to travel to or from Morocco who wish to discuss their booking should contact our customer service team.
“Any easyJet holidays customers due to depart today and tomorrow will be contacted directly regarding their upcoming trip.”
The number for easyJet customer services is 0330 551 5151. It is possible booked passengers will be offered flexibility allowing them to postpone or a change destinations.
Ryanair’s spokesperson said: “There may be some potential delays and cancellations to/from Morocco today due the earthquake.
“Affected passengers will be notified and passengers travelling to/from Morocco today should check their Ryanair app for flight updates before travelling to the airport.
“We apologise for any inconvenience caused to our passengers and offer out deepest sympathies to those affected.”
The Independent has also contacted Tui to ask about its policies, but has so far had no confirmation.
I don’t believe I will be able to have a safe and enjoyable holiday. What are my rights?
It is too early to establish the amount of damage and disruption to the area, and in particular tourist facilities. If you choose not to travel before your holiday company makes a decision, you are likely to lose most or all of your money.
If I do come home early, will I be able to claim on travel insurance?
Not necessarily: the first line of action will be to contact your travel company and ask if you can leave early. They may well put arrangements in place. Travel insurance will be relevant only in the event of potential danger.
What about travel elsewhere in Morocco?
The main holiday locations including Agadir and Essaouira, are believed to be unaffected. A Londoner currently travelling on Morocco’s Atlantic coast says he “felt the tremors very strongly” during the earthquake.
Alex Folkes is staying in Tagazhout, north of Agadir – about 80km (50 miles) from the epicentre of the earthquake.
He told The Independent: “Felt the tremors very strongly but no apparent damage or injury in the town. Place is back to normal (as far as I can tell) this morning. Obviously very different to Marrakech and Atlas villages. Condolences to all who have suffered.”
Is Morocco an earthquake-prone area?
Not especially, but when they occur they tend to be deadly. The most devastating was in Agadir in 1960, when 12,000-15,000 people died. The town has now been rebult and is a popular resort.