Newfoundlanders in Morocco safe but in ‘shock’ after powerful earthquake strikes historic city | CBC News

A man in a red shirt leans against a wall as he walks in a narrow alleyway filled up with rocks.
A resident navigates through the rubble following a 6.8-magnitude earthquake in Marrakesh, Morocco Friday. (Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images)

Around a dozen Canadians attending a UNESCO conference in Marrakech, Morocco are accounted for after a powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck the historic city, says Bonavista Mayor John Norman, who was awoken in his hotel room Friday night. 

“It was quite surreal,” said Norman, who is also the chair of the Discovery UNESCO Global Geopark on the Bonavista Peninsula. “I think everyone is in a bit of shock.”

The earthquake, which occurred late Friday night, is reported to have killed more than 1,000 people and has left historic buildings and villages from the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech in rubble. 

Norman is one of four Newfoundlanders — Guillaume Lallier, Shawna Prince and Sumanta Chatterjee — in Marrakech for the conference.

While all four are safe, Norman said he and Lallier were the only ones with a place to sleep Friday night.

State of shock

After spending Friday at the conference, which focuses on geoparks and earth sciences, Norman said he and Lallier went back to their hotel room to try and get some sleep.

“We were just getting into bed and all of a sudden you hear a loud groaning noise and the building begins to move a little bit,” said Norman.

“And I just look at my partner Guillaume and I said, ‘We’re having an earthquake.’”

That’s when the “jolting” began, said Norman.

The entire building began to shake, causing windows to break and light fixtures to fall over and shatter, he said.

A man wearing a white t-shirt and blue flannel jacket smiles.
John Norman, the mayor of Bonavista, was one of four Newfoundlanders attending a UNESCO conference in Marrakech when the earthquake struck. He says all four are safe and accounted for, but in a state of shock. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Norman and Lallier fled the building and ran to a courtyard with other hotel guests, away from any falling debris.

He said many people were running around in a state of confusion, as alarm systems and sirens blared throughout the city.

Norman said he believes he and Lallier were the only Canadian delegates with a hotel room last night. He said those who stayed in other hotels, including Prince and Chatterjee, had to sit on a grassy area on the side of a main road in Marrakech, watching ambulances pass by the entire evening, as their hotel was not safe to return to.

Norman said he was fortunate to choose a newly constructed hotel that is on the edge of the city in a low-rise area. He said despite getting minimal sleep, everyone in the hotel was “safe and content,” and able to return to their rooms after the earthquake struck.

“I do plan for these sort of things in the incredible off chance that something is to occur,” said Norman. “And in this rare instance, it paid off.”

On Sunday, UNESCO delegates were supposed to go on a field trip into the Atlas Mountains and into villages that are “now completely decimated,” Norman said. He has been advised not to leave his hotel room.

There are over 1,500 people attending the UNESCO conference from over 50 countries. Norman said the organization is still trying to track down and contact all of the delegates, who were staying in different areas throughout the city.

The main UNESCO conference headquarters has become a blood drive site. Norman said all UNESCO participants are asked to donate blood “that’s badly needed.”

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