The death toll is rising following a catastrophic earthquake in Morocco late at night on Friday 8 September. More than 2,000 people have been killed and injured after the 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck.
The epicentre was about 70km (43 miles) southwest of Marrakech – the fourth-biggest city in Morocco, and by far the most popular draw for international visitors.
Thousands of British holidaymakers are in the area, with many thousands more booked to go there during September. This is the travel picture.
How many British holidaymakers are in the vicinity?
The Independent calculates from flight data that around 5,000-8,000 UK holidaymakers are in the Marrakech area. Many are staying in the ancient heart of the city, or in modern hotels on the outskirts.
Trekking in the Atlas mountains is also popular, particularly in autumn when temperatures start to drop.
Is Marrakech airport still open and operating?
Yes, and a large number of UK flights have arrived and departed since the earthquake, including British Airways, easyJet and Tui from London Gatwick, easyJet from Luton, Ryanair from London Stansted and Tui from Birmingham and Manchester.
On Saturday both British Airways and easyJet deployed larger aircraft on their flights to London in order to accommodate passengers who wanted to come home early.
All other airports in Morocco are running normally.
What are the options for British travellers who want to leave the area?
At present there are no plans for an airlift. In the absence of confirmation to the contrary, the assumption will be that you travel home as planned.
If I come home early, will I be able to claim on travel insurance?
Not necessarily: the first line of action will be to contact your travel company and ask if you can leave early. They may well put arrangements in place. Travel insurance will be relevant only in the event of potential danger.
I am booked to travel to the Marrakech area imminently. Can I cancel?
Many thousands of people will be in this position: not wishing to put additional strain on a location enduring a humanitarian crisis; uncomfortable about going on holiday to a scene of such tragedy; or concerned about the possibility of aftershocks.
At present there are no clear grounds to cancel without penalty; the Foreign Office stops well short of warning against travel to the region.
The updated travel advice says: “All Moroccan airports are open and flights to and from the UK are operating normally, with some airlines laying on additional seats for travellers wishing to return to the UK earlier than planned.
“Travellers wishing to change their flight plans should liaise direct with their tour operators or airline companies.
“If you are planning to travel to Morocco imminently we advise you check with your accommodation provider/tour operator to confirm arrangements before departure in case of disruption or damage resulting from the earthquake.
“Should you require consular assistance please call the British Embassy in Rabat on +212 537 63 33 33 and select the menu option for consular services, or call the Foreign Office on +44 207 008 5000.”
The presumption is that almost all holidays will go ahead as normal. The main exceptions: trips based at specific properties which are currently unable to receive guests due to the earthquakes, and Atlas treks
The US Embassy in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, is telling American citizens: “Local hospitals and resources in the most affected areas may become strained. Hospitals in Marrakech and major cities are currently open but have limited capacity.
“Avoid affected areas and follow police instructions regarding road closures or traffic disruptions. Airports and local transportation are open and functioning.”
What are the airlines saying?
These are the positions of the major airlines:
British Airways is offering flexibility to passengers booked to Marrakech in the next two weeks. A BA spokesperson said: “The welfare of our customers is our priority, and we have contacted our British Airways Holidays customers in Morocco to check that they’re safe.
“We are continuing to monitor the situation closely, and customers due to travel to or from Marrakech in the next two weeks can change their dates free of charge if they wish.”
EasyJet’s spokesperson said: “EasyJet’s thoughts are with everyone affected by the earthquake in Morocco.
“If you are scheduled to travel to or from Morocco in the next few days, and wish to discuss your booking please contact our customer service team..”
The number for easyJet customer services is 0330 551 5151. It is possible booked passengers will be offered flexibility allowing them to postpone or to change destinations.
Ryanair’s spokesperson said: “There may be some potential delays and cancellations to/from Morocco today due to the earthquake.
“Affected passengers will be notified and passengers travelling to/from Morocco today should check their Ryanair app for flight updates before travelling to the airport.
“We apologise for any inconvenience caused to our passengers and offer our deepest sympathies to those affected.”
What do the holiday companies say?
A spokesperson for Tui said: “We are aware of and deeply saddened by the devastating earthquakes which took place about 70km southwest of Marrakech. Our thoughts are with the people in Morocco, the victims and their families.
“Our teams are currently working on the ground in resort, supporting customers where needed and in contact with local authorities and partners to continue to assess the situation. In addition, customers have access to the Tui contact centre and the 24/7 Tui app, where they can speak directly with a member of staff.
“We can confirm that there has been no change in the Foreign Office advice and the next planned TUI Airways flight is on Monday 11 September. Customers travelling on Tui holidays with other airlines on Sunday or Monday have or will be contacted by a member of the team to discuss their options.
Jet2, the other big package holiday company, does not operate to Morocco.
I don’t believe I will be able to have a safe and enjoyable holiday. What are my rights?
It is too early to establish the amount of damage and disruption to the area, and in particular tourist facilities.
More seismic activity will continue, according to the US Geological Survey: “It’s likely that smaller aftershocks in the region ... will continue to be felt for weeks to come. In some cases, there may be strong aftershocks.”
Even so, with no Foreign Office warning against travel: if you choose not to travel before your holiday company makes a decision, you are likely to lose most or all of your money.
What about travel elsewhere in Morocco?
The main holiday locations, including Agadir and Essaouira, are believed to be unaffected. A Londoner currently travelling on Morocco’s Atlantic coast said he “felt the tremors very strongly” during the earthquake.
Alex Folkes is staying in Taghazout, north of Agadir – about 80km (50 miles) from the epicentre of the earthquake.
He told The Independent: “Felt the tremors very strongly but no apparent damage or injury in the town. Place is back to normal (as far as I can tell) this morning. Obviously very different to Marrakech and Atlas villages. Condolences to all who have suffered.”
Is Morocco an earthquake-prone area?
Not especially, but when they occur they tend to be deadly. The most devastating was in Agadir in 1960, when 12,000-15,000 people died. The town has now been rebuilt and is a popular resort.