Morocco’s Sahara Tempest: The World Didn’t Hear

Recently, the clouds accumulated in Morocco’s southeastern corner. The houses of mud stood under the shadow of the sun’s piercing rays. Even the villagers living in small oases towns, found on no map, stopped to stare at the sky. The areas of the Sahara Desert around Merzouga, on May 26, along with Erg Chebbi, thought to be the highest dune in Morocco and the world, were about to see more water than they had seen in nearly forty years.

As the obscure sunset made it’s way partially below the horizon, the rain began; falling harder and harder. A once flowing tributary filled again with water that began its ravage assault on area auberges and hotels. Those in tents in the desert would have to survive the flooding, which now turned to hail. Within ten minutes a new river flowed. Within twenty, cars were covered in sand and structures that had stood for thirty years lay in piles of sandy slush.

One Frenchman driving his 4×4 got stuck and had to leave his car the rest of the night. It was almost completely covered by sand and no way could it be moved the next day. Another Australian tourist claimed, “We were out of the way of the flowing river. We were actually standing on the roof of the hotel. It all seemed so surreal, so out of place. As we watched the lightning strike manically across the sky, we watched as bats circled above catching as many insects as they could.”

As the sun rose early the next morning, over 250 small buildings, houses, and animal sheds that once stood were no longer in sight. No one was sure if there were any casualties. Later in the morning, it was reported that six or seven people were killed, among them a few tourists.

Many elders in the southern regions near Merzouga remembered a storm when they were younger, “…in grade school, right at sunset, just like this,” one claimed. Time tends to take its own rhythm in the Maghreb region of Africa. Sometimes it even stands still. When people talk about events that happen in their lives, they tend to relate it to other events that occurred, rather than dates. The massive flooding, cold rain, and the earth-vibrating thunder of this night will be etched deeply in the flowing sands of time for those who call the Sahara Desert their home. Hopefully, a tragedy such as this will not happen ever again. Hopefully, when these kids are older, they will only have to tell stories of this eerie night when even Erg Chebbi seemed to hide. Hopefully, those who have lost all to the storm will regain their livelihoods and carry on.

— Dedicated to the Moroccans and tourists who lost their lives in the terrible Sahara tempest that night. The world didn’t hear much, but the dunes hold your cries.