The city of Agadir in Morocco is reduced to ruins by an earthquake on this day in 1960. Northeastern Africa was not generally an area known for earthquakes, though there had been a deadly tremor in Algeria six years earlier.
Agadir, located south of Casablanca on the Atlantic Ocean, was a fast-growing but little-known city in 1960. Its only claim to fame prior to this Leap Day quake was that it was the site of a diplomatic confrontation known as the Agadir Crisis between France and Germany in the years leading up to World War I.
The first major earthquake on February 29 took place at 11:49 p.m. and lasted for about 15 seconds. Nearly three quarters of Agadir was destroyed. Survivors struggled to find loved ones and safety in total darkness. To make matters worse, a tsunami crashed 300 yards inland, claiming the lives of scores of people living near the coast.
A powerful aftershock followed about an hour after the first tremor and caused even more damage. Fifty tourists staying at Agadir’s most luxurious hotel, the Es Saada, died when the old building collapsed. Survivors labored to free those trapped beneath the rubble, as fires raged because there were not enough firefighters available to contain them all. Uninjured survivors filled the roads leading out of the city the next day.
The community of Casbah suffered particularly intense damage, losing its mosque and two-thirds of its 2,500 residents. Overall, the best estimates place the death toll at about 12,000.