Historic Earthquakes

Agadir, Morocco
1960 February 29 23:40 UTC
Magnitude 5.7

Agadir, Morocco
Over one-third of the population of Agadir was killed and at least another third injured by this short-duration earthquake, which lasted less than 15 seconds. It is the most destructive "moderate" quake (magnitude less than 6) in the 20th Century - the direct opposite of the magnitude 8.1 Mongolian earthquake of 04 Dec 1957, which killed very few people. All buildings in the Founti, Kasbah and Yachech sections of Agadir were destroyed or very severely damaged and more than 95 percent of the people in these areas were killed. Over 90 percent of buildings were destroyed or damaged in the Talbordjt district and more than 60 percent were damaged in New City and Front-de-Mer districts. The exact casualty figure is unknown because once it was clear there could be no more survivors in the rubble, much of the area was bulldozed because of health and safety concerns. This moderate quake was so destructive because it was a shallow event right under the city. Also, few buildings had been built to seismic codes because people thought that the area did not have a serious earthquake risk. It had been forgotten that a previous town at this location, named Santa Cruz de Aguer, had been destroyed by an earthquake in 1731.


The Agadir, Morocco Earthquake February 29, 1960

The night of February 29, 1960 was a typical winter night in Agadir, warm and clear, with the stars bright overhead. The hotels were filled with a gay tourist crowd, and the native Moroccans were celebrating and feasting in observance of the third night of Ramadan, the annual religious season which Mohammedans observe by fasting through the daylight hours and feasting by night. Only one factor distinguished this particular evening from the others of the season; slight earthquakes had been felt during the past week and a particularly strong shock had occurred this day, just before noon. This was a bit disquieting for a region in which common knowledge insisted earthquakes "never" occurred.

Then at 11:41 p.m. the earth gave a sudden violent lurch. A survivor said, "The earth was kicked from under us." The ground motions lasted less than 15 seconds, but in this brief time the old masonry buildings in the Kasbah, Founti, and Yachech districts wobbled and collapsed, burying thousands of Moroccans in the rubble. In the Talborjt district, the newer, more modern appearing buildings developed cracks in the plaster exposing the weak masonry beneath; whole walls broke loose and crashed into the streets; complete buildings settled into rubble, burying thousands of Moroccans in the debris. In the New City and the Front-de-Mer, modern appearing reinforced concrete hotels and apartments revealed their deficiencies in design and construction, collapsing in total ruin and burying hundreds of Europeans in the heaps of twisted beams, columns, and shattered floor slabs. Within seconds entire districts of the city had been destroyed, thousands of people had been killed outright, and even more tragically, additional thousands had been buried alive in the debris to die agonizing deaths days later.

Rescue efforts were mobilized by many nations almost at once. The first news of the disaster was flashed to the outside world by the radios of Spanish fishing vessels anchored in Agadir harbor. French sailors and marines at the Agadir naval base were alerted by the ground motions and had rescue trucks on their way to the city within an hour. They were followed to the scene by Moroccan soldiers and French military personnel from other nearby bases. The next day King Mohammed V arrived to survey the magnitude of the disaster, and immediately placed his son, Prince Moulay Hassan in charge of all rescue operations. The same day air lifts of rescuers and emergency supplies began to arrive from American bases in Morocco and Germany. The Spanish military forces organized their own air lift, sending in soldiers and additional supplies.

On March 3, Company A of the 79th Engineer Battalion, U.S. Army, arrived from Germany by air lift, with complete field and construction equipment, By this time very few persons were found still alive in the debris, and the heavy equipment was soon assigned to leveling the few walls which remained standing in the Kasbah and Yachech areas so that the decontamination crews could operate. The bulldozers also performed very effectively in opening the streets which has been thoroughly blocked with debris falling from the buildings. The principal rescue efforts were terminated on March 4, in favor of drastic measures for decontamination and disease prevention. However, a few people were found still alive after having been buried in the rubble for as long as ten days.

In summary, it may be stated that the Agadir earthquake of February 29, 1960, was one of the most devastating local quakes of all times. Within a period of a few seconds and over an area of only a few square miles, the bulk of the city of Agadir was completely destroyed and over a third of its citizens killed. In areas such as the Kasbah and Yachech the death toll amounted to 95 per cent of the population, and almost every structure was completely shattered. The total number of casualties will never be known; thousands of bodies could not be recovered from the debris. But a reasonable estimate has indicated at least 12,000 killed and 12,000 wounded.

Taken from "The Agadir, Morocco Earthquake February 29, 1960," 1962, American Iron and Steel Institute, New York, pages 12-15.


Agadir, Morocco, Revisited Seven Years After the Disaster

The sudden destruction of Agadir, Morocco, by an earthquake on February 29, 1960, was vividly recalled by many Moroccans on the seventh anniversary of the occurrence. This once-flourishing port and tourist haven reported that about 40 percent of its population of 35,000 were killed, and that property was damaged to the extent of about $70 million.

The following is a report on the reconstruction of Agadir, prepared by Mr. Pierre Stahl, UNESCO Expert, Service de Physique du Globe, Rabal, Morocco:

The Department of Public Works, which supervised the rebuilding, edicted severe regulations on both repair and construction. Each building was inspected to ensure the fulfillment of their building codes. Since the imposed regulations were too strict in many cases for multistory houses, the traditional type of square buildings around an inner patio is now very common. Due to the fact that the Government funded the main expenses and provided grants and loans only if the conditions of their building regulations were met, enforcement of the code was not difficult.

At present, the city's population has soared to about the same as it was in 1960 - near 35,000. Provisions for 2000 tourists, attracted by the temperate climate and beautiful beaches, have been made by the owners of hotels and bungalows. In an effort to rebeautify the city, more than 85,000 trees have been planted. Roads, streets, harbor facilities, and power and water supplies are better than before the disaster. Nearly $45 million has been spent to ensure that the buildings are less susceptible to such extensive damage in future earthquakes, and to make the city more attractive than ever to the tourist.

Abridged from Earthquake Information Bulletin, April 1967, Volume 1, Number 2.