In the nearly two days since a deadly earthquake killed more than 2,000 people in Morocco, Montreal’s Café Amistad has become a gathering place for people seeking answers, or at least support.
As news of the deadly quake trickled in on Friday, Chorfi Zouhir kept his shop open late into the night, as customers stayed glued to news channels and tried frantically to call home.
“Everything was upside down,” Zouhir said in an interview Sunday. “We were looking for information at any price.”
There are roughly 100,000 Canadians of Moroccan descent, according to the latest census, most of whom — about 81,000 — live in Quebec. Nearly half of that population is in Montreal.
Zouhir said many people spent the early hours trying to get through to relatives on the phone, desperate to know if they were OK. He said initially, the death toll was reported to be in the dozens, then the hundreds. By the time he woke up Saturday morning, “it was multiplying,” he said.
At last count, state officials reported 2,122 deaths and 2,421 people injured after the Kingdom of Morocco was shaken by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake late Friday, about 70 kilometres south of Marrakech.
Zouhir’s family members in Casablanca are safe, but he is shocked by the tragedy that struck his country.
He has also been deeply touched by how many people of all backgrounds have stopped by his café to ask their Moroccan neighbours if their families are safe.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his condolences to the people of Morocco in a social media post, and said Canada is ready to help however it can.
“My heart breaks for the people of Morocco, following yesterday’s devastating earthquake,” Trudeau wrote Saturday on X, formerly known as Twitter. “To those who lost loved ones: Canadians are sending you our deepest condolences.”
At least one mosque in Montreal said it is collecting donations to send to Morocco, while multiple people on a Facebook page dedicated to Moroccan Montrealers posted online, asking how they could help.
In London, Ont., the local Moroccan community gathered over the weekend to pray for the victims of the earthquake and discuss ways to help their loved ones in the country.
Abdallah Haida, vice-president of the Moroccan Association of London Ontario, said his team is working with global agencies such as Islamic Relief Canada and local charities in Morocco to help send money and basic necessities to those impacted by the tragedy.
Some relief workers from Canada are also on their way to Morocco, according to Rahul Singh, the executive director of Ontario-based humanitarian aid organization GlobalMedic. Singh told CBC News that these teams will be helping relief workers on the ground and providing clean drinking water to survivors.
In an update on Sunday, Global Affairs Canada said it was not aware of any Canadian citizens injured or killed in Morocco.
GAC said it is “providing assistance” to 50 Canadian citizens in the country, and that 4,763 people in Morocco are registered in the Registration of Canadians Abroad database, according to a statement.
“Global Affairs Canada stands ready to assist the people of Morocco at this difficult time,” the statement read.
It said the department is in close contact with the United Nations, the Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations.
Canada is one of multiple countries that have offered support to Morocco in the aftermath of the devastation, but the country has not issued a formal request for help.
Newfoundland mayor in Marrakech during earthquake
On Sunday, the streets of Marrakech were filled with police and army vehicles, according to a Newfoundland man who was attending a UNESCO conference in the historic city when the quake hit.
John Norman, the mayor of Bonavista, N.L., said he was getting ready for bed on Friday when the room began to shake. Though it started slowly, he said the large jolts began within seconds.
“The ceiling began to move, and dust began to come down,” he said in an interview. “The ceiling light fixtures in the bathroom fell out of the ceiling and I said, ‘we’re leaving.'”
Norman said he was lucky that neither he nor other Canadian delegation members were hurt, and said their hotel is well-built and sustained only minor damage. However, he said, it’s painful to hear the stories from hotel staff whose families have lost homes.
Norman said he is also aware that his own story could have ended differently. Originally, he was scheduled to conclude the conference with a field mission to the Atlas Mountains — near the epicentre of the tragedy — and stay in a hotel that is now “no more,” Norman said.
“We’re all very lucky and we all realize it,” he said.
The money for that expedition has been donated to earthquake relief, Norman said, and a donation centre has been set up outside the hotel where he’s staying. Conference attendees and others staying in less-damaged areas have donated blood and bottled water, he said.