Moroccan native who lives in Rochester describes earthquake’s devastation

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – It’s been 10 days since a devastating earthquake destroyed parts of Morocco, killing nearly 3,000 people and injuring thousands more.

This is hitting close to home for a Rochester woman whose family is in Morocco.

Sonia Altaji is originally from Mohammedia, Morocco. She’s been living in Rochester for the past 21 years, and says earthquakes are rare in her homeland.

“All of a sudden they felt this massive quake. Like the whole building is shaking. Doors slamming, windows, everything fell on the floor. They raced, running for their lives,” said Altaji.

She’s thousands of miles away and five time zones behind her native Morocco, but mentally and emotionally, she’s there. Altaji says she first learned about the 6.8 magnitude earthquake on her Facebook. The epicenter was about 45 minutes southwest of the popular tourist city of Marrakesh. At first, she didn’t believe it.

“I immediately called my mother and my older sister,” said Altaji. She continued, “I couldn’t get hold of them, and I started to panic. I finally got hold of my younger sister, and the first thing she said, ‘We are safe’ in a very quivering voice. I can feel the fear in her voice.”

Altaji’s family still lives in the city Mohammedia, which is about 30 minutes from Casablanca. All of them survived uninjured. Altaji says the family home is still standing.

“They spent the night, the whole night in the streets, and they went back. They were afraid to go back home but they went back about 6 o’clock in the morning and they had to spend a second night in the street because they predict another recurring earthquake,” said Altaji.

She says the earthquake has really taken a toll on the younger members of her family.

“Yeah, my nieces and nephews, they’re still scared. So, it struck on Friday, Monday was school, and they didn’t want to go to school. They didn’t want to be away from their parents,” said Altaji.

She went on to say only a handful of Moroccans live in our area. Locally, the University of Rochester men’s soccer team and the Embrace Relief Fund took up a collection at a recent game.

For now, Altaji is keeping a close eye on the recovery efforts.

“Our hearts goes to the victims and their families,” she said.

Last time, Altaji visited her home was back in 2019. She says if another major earthquake strikes, she will go home to be with her family.

Here are two organizations collecting donations: Doctors Without Borders and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies