A devastating 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck near Marrakesh, Morocco, at around 11 p.m. on Friday night, killing more than 2,100 and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. The centuries-old Jewish Quarter in the heart of Marrakesh’s Old City was among the most severely affected areas, as homes and other aged structures crumbled to the ground and at least two historic synagogues were reported damaged. Residents and volunteers cleared the debris manually throughout the night and day, in anticipation of the arrival of heavier machinery and search-and-rescue help from abroad.

Hafida Sahraouia, a 50-year-old resident of the Jewish Quarter, was heartbroken as she looked over the ruins of her home. She compared the devastation to the aftermath of a bombing. Sahraouia recounted the horrifying moments leading up to her house’s collapse. “We were having dinner when the sounds of explosions filled the air,” she told AFP. “In a panic, I rushed outside with my children, only to witness our home collapsing shortly after. We’ve lost everything,” she said.

The official number of those killed at around midnight Sunday was at least 2,102, with another 2,059 or more injured, and 1,404 in critical condition. But officals caution that the full extent of casualties and damages could not yet be known given the widespread impact of the quake, whose epicenter was about 50 miles south of Marrakesh. There were no reported Jewish casualties as of Sunday morning, and Chabad-Lubavitch is sending teams to the effected areas to provide assistance.

Israeli attorney Doron Darino, who was visiting Marrakesh for Shabbat, prayed at Chabad’s Al Fassayn synagogue on Friday night, and when he returned the next day, reported that the historic structure was badly damaged. The home of the family where he had Shabbat dinner was destroyed. Following the earthquake, he attended services on Shabbat morning at the Slat al-Azama Synagogue, built in 1492 by Jews who had been expelled from Spain, which was partially damaged.

Marrakesh has about 200 full-time Jewish residents, and thousands of Jewish tourists from around the world visit the ancient Jewish Quarter every year. The Old City appears on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and as much as seven percent of Morocco’s national economy comes from tourism to the Old City, where Rabbi Shimon and Rachel Lahiany serve as co-directors of Chabad of Marrakesh.

There are about 2,100 Jewish citizens of Morocco, with most living in the Casablanca area. According to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, a total of 468 Israeli citizens currently reside in Morocco, all of whom have been accounted for.

Offers of support came in from Jewish communities around the world as word of the disaster spread following the conclusion of the Jewish Sabbath and Chabad emissaries reached out to Jewish residents and tourists. Chabad has served a key role in the Moroccan Jewish community since 1950. Earlier this year, a historic conference of rabbis from Africa, the Middle East and Europe was hosted in Fez by Moroccan-born Rabbi Levi Banon and his U.S.-born wife, Chana, who have served as emissaries at Chabad-Lubavitch of Morocco since 2009, when Mrs. Raizel Raskin, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Morocco, appointed them to lead the next generation of Moroccan Jewry.

Support From the Rebbe After 1960 Earthquake

In 1960, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake devastated the city of Agadir, Morocco, killing 12,000 people (about a third of the city’s population at the time), including some students of the local Chabad yeshivah. The Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—immediately dispatched a telegram to Rabbi Shaul Danan, the Chief Rabbi of Agadir, expressing solidarity:

Together with our dear Moroccan brethren, we bemoan the “fire that ravaged” the community of Agadir, and our heartfelt prayers are with you … . May G‑d bless you in your efforts of rebuilding with inner peace and magnanimity … .

P.S. I have encouraged the Chabad community to increase their prayers and charity this Thursday, which is a fast day, in commemoration of the tragedy.

At the Purim farbrengen the following week, the Rebbe spoke publicly about the disaster in Agadir. He talked about the idea that the restoration after destruction could be even more powerful than what was there prior to the destruction. He brought the example of the second tablets at Mount Sinai, which contained many additions and were “double in strength” in comparison to the first set. And he said:

Therefore, in the place of one [learning] center, there must be numerous ones, and in the place of one student there must be many more … ! This growth will not only benefit the community and school but also the souls of the departed, who were sadly cut down in their prime, and who will derive gratification when the empty places on the yeshiva benches they left behind will once again be filled.