Moroccan earthquake rattles CGS student, MUSC international community

Adam Wise
September 13, 2023
Houda Mesnaoui, a second-year MUSC Biomedical Sciences, Ph.D., student, is seen sitting on a bench near the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Submitted photo.

It was Friday evening when Houda Mesnaoui received the startling first text from her cousins, Insaf and Ihsan.

“They felt the house shaking,” she said. “They didn’t know what to do.”

Mesnaoui, a second-year MUSC Biomedical Sciences, Ph.D., student in the College of Graduate Studies, immediately thought of Rabat, the capital city of Morocco that is about 200 miles north of the epicenter of the destructive earthquake that terrorized the region after 11 p.m. local time on Aug. 8.

Toppling buildings and rock formations and blocking roads, the earthquake’s effects reached far and wide in the North African country, devastating millions of Moroccans, from the populous cities of Marrakech and Rabat to the distant, remote villages in the Atlas Mountains. The experience was harrowing for Mesnaoui’s cousins.

“They heard like a thunder noise; things were falling out of cabinets, and they had to quickly leave,” she said. “They spent nearly all night outside; they were afraid of the aftershocks.”A headshot of Houda Mesnaoui, MUSC College of Graduate Studies student.

Search and rescue operations continue in the country, as, tragically, thousands have already been reported dead due to the natural disaster. Mesnaoui, who grew up in Tangier, a seaside community near the northern most tip of the country, said her mother, brother and sister, who still live in the city, were just beyond the reaches of the tremors and spared the terrifying experience.

She said she particularly fears for and thinks of the local residents who live in the remote villages in the Atlas Mountains, communities that officials have found hard to reach or even locate.

“Some of these villages in the mountains are very hard to reach; people they don’t even know exist. The roads are already limited, but those available are buried under rocks and rubble,” said Mesnaoui, who is trying to organize some support locally among friends to send money for supplies overseas. “It’s really frustrating, but you want to do something; you want to help.”

Back in Charleston, the situation in Morocco is the latest tragedy to affect the local international community, though organizations like the MUSC International Student Association (ISA) was quick to spring into action and provide support to Mesnaoui and others affected by the event, according to Carla Martinez, ISA president.

“We understand the gravity of the situation and are determined to aid in any way possible to alleviate the tragic circumstances our Moroccan community members may be facing,” Martinez said. “In the coming days, ISA will be reaching out to our international community with information about how to help our Moroccan students during this difficult time. We encourage all members of our University community to join us in this endeavor, whether through volunteering, donations or simply extending a kind word to those affected.”

Mesnaoui’s cousins, who were unharmed, along with many other civilians in the country have been traveling to some of the more devastated communities, seeking to provide supplies and offer any other help they can, as the effects of the harrowing experience still linger.

“Even after going home, they were telling me they were still having nightmares,” she said, “that the house was going to fall or something bad would happen.”

A host of international organizations have quickly rallied to gather support in sending manpower and supplies to the region, including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, GlobalGiving, UNICEF, CARE and Doctors Without Borders.