UAE women's basketball team tell of lucky escape from Morocco earthquake

Members of the Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy were competing in the Arab Women's Club Championship in Marrakesh

The team had travelled to Morocco to compete when the earthquake hit. Photo: @uaebasketball.association / Instagram
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Members of a UAE women's basketball team have shared their experiences after escaping the earthquake that hit Morocco on Friday night.

Hayat Saqer, 25, from Abu Dhabi, who is part of the Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy basketball team, said she had been speaking to her mother on the phone in her hotel room when the earthquake struck.

“Furniture began moving and things fell of the shelf,” she told The National. “I had my phone on a stand along with my coffee cup. When the earthquake hit, my cup fell on the floor.

“My roommate was in another teammate's room and I had just finished showering. I was video-calling my mum while doing the laundry.

“I was a bit confused as I did not know there was a possibility of an earthquake here. It felt like forever for it to pass and my mum was confused as to what was going on.”

The 6.8-magnitude earthquake affected large parts of Morocco and has so far claimed the lives of about 2,900 people, the country's Interior Ministry has said.

The immediate impact of the earthquake at the Rawabi Hotel, where the team were staying. Photo: Hayat Saqer

A 3.9-magnitude aftershock hit the country on Sunday. The death toll is expected to rise as rescuers continue efforts to locate survivors.

The basketball team were in Morocco – staying in the Rawabi Hotel in Marrakesh – to take part in the Arab Women's Club Championships, taking place between September 6 to 15.

Teams from Kuwait, Algeria, Morocco, Somalia and Saudi Arabia were also competing.

Ms Saqer, who is Emirati, said once the earthquake stopped, she ran outside and saw dust covering the hotel's corridor and people running frantically to safety.

“I was worried about my roommate because I heard her crying and screaming from the room next door. But thankfully, we were OK and no one was injured,” she said.

Hayat Saqer of the Fatima bint Mubarak Academy basketball team. Photo: Hayat Saqer

Ms Saqer said her team captain made all the players gather in the corridor to calm them down.

“It took me a minute to talk because I didn't know what to say but all I heard was our captain telling us to sit down.

“After that, a Moroccan lady who was in the corridor saw us and kept shouting that we had to leave and evacuate.”

The Rawabi Hotel in Marrakesh was damaged after the earthquake hit Morocco. Photo: Hayat Saqer

The squad, comprising 10 players, two coaches, one parent, one physiotherapist and three admin staff, were evacuated from the hotel and were told they could not return to their rooms for their own safety.

“We couldn't go back to our rooms because they [emergency services] said another wave might hit,” she said.

“But when it was safe to go back in, our admin team went back to our rooms to get us clothes because we were not covered up properly since we were all in bed or getting ready to go to sleep,” she said.

Dust on the floor of the corridor in the Rawabi Hotel in Marrakesh after the earthquake hit. Photo: Hayat Saqer

Ms Saqer said the team had to sleep overnight in their bus that was parked outside of the hotel. In the morning, they ate breakfast and drove four hours to Casablanca to stay the night before their flight home.

The next day, the team flew to Dubai and returned safely to their families.

Another team member, Anna Sheaia, said the earthquake was the most traumatic experience of her life.

“I was in my room alone checking the AC,” the 26 year old told The National. “I got up to adjust it and as soon as I laid down the whole room started shaking.”

Anna Sheaia said the earthquake was the most traumatic experience of her life. Photo: Anna Sheaia

“I got up and was screaming in shock. I didn't know what to do. I opened the hotel door and saw everyone running in the corridor,” she said.

Ms Sheaia, a Swedish citizen with Iraqi heritage, said it was about 12.30am when they were evacuated from the hotel.

She said it was 3am when they were told it was safe to return to collect their belongings.

“The whole team stayed together and gathered, cried and prayed. We called our families to say we were OK,” she said, adding that the whole experience had left her frightened to be alone.

“I'm not OK. I keep thinking about when it happened and now I'm scared to be alone or to go to the bathroom alone since I was by myself when the earthquake happened,” she said.

“It was a terrible experience but I'm glad I made it out of the country.”

On Monday, the Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy shared a photo of the team on Instagram, writing that all had arrived back in the UAE from their trip in Morocco.

“Welcome back. It's great to have you back home in the UAE,” it said.

The UAE has ordered the opening of air bridges to Morocco to assist with the delivery of urgently needed aid.

Morocco Earthquake: the latest – in pictures

Updated: September 14, 2023, 12:28 PM