The largest earthquake to hit Morocco in over a century has killed more than 2,500 people. At Al Akhawayn University in the city of Ifrane, two people have special connections to Montana, sharing what they’ve seen throughout the country.
“It’s challenging because you just don’t know. You’re just laying in your bed and this thing happens. And you have no warning,” said Brian Seilstad, Al Akhawayn University’s director of the international office, on Sunday.
Seilstad grew up in Denton, but he’s called the country of Morocco home for more than a decade, living in Ifrane with his wife and son. A Peace Corps mission first brought him to the town of Amizmiz in 2007, and he’s kept up with the town ever since.
“I’ve heard anecdotally that there were like 20 people in town that have died. The areas of town with some of the older buildings were very strongly hurt,” Seilstad said.
He said the entire country is reeling.
“What I feel right now is that we’re in mourning. It is very hard. The king, for example, has called for a three-day mourning period, and there are some special prayers being conducted throughout the country” said Seilstad.
The epicenter of the 6.8 magnitude earthquake was in the High Atlas Mountain range, hitting small villages in the area the hardest.
“But it also knocked down buildings in Marrakesh, even as far as Casablanca and Rabat, some of the buildings I believe were hurt,” said Seilstad.
The quake was so massive that Al Akhawayn University students like Hala Sanih felt it nearly 400 miles away in Ifrane.
“We felt it pretty much everywhere in Morocco. That’s the scariest thing is that it was very far away and still we felt it from here,” said Sanih
The 21-year-old is from the capital of Rabat but studies computer science at the college. She also has a Montana connection after spending this year’s spring semester in Bozeman.
“I was a Bobcat, so a MSU student, Montana State University,” Sanih said.
She said her Montana friends have been reaching out to ask if she’s okay, a question she’s struggled to answer.
“This is exactly what I said to a friend. He said, 'hi, are you okay?' And I said, 'physically yes, emotionally no,'” Sanih said.
Despite the devastation, Sanih said the tragedy has brought her country together.
“We’ve all been all together. Everyone is donating money; everyone is donating clothes. Everyone is donating the slightest thing they had,” said Sanih.
It’s much needed, especially as the country mourns the loss of thousands.
“We’ve been to the semifinals of the World Cup all together, and we’re all so happy. And now we’re all together again, against something that has happened that is very bad for the country,” said Sanih.