Jack Hooker’s cellphone woke him with calls and texts soon after the catastrophic earthquake struck Morocco on Friday night.

His sister, his mother, his father, his aunt, and friends asked the same question of the student living in Tangier, Morocco: “Is everything OK? Are you alright?”

Amaya West, left, and Jack Hooker, are students at the Morocco campus of the University of New England. Their campus in Tangier was not physically impacted, but people there are in shock and are mourning, they said Sunday. Photo submitted by Jack Hooker

Hooker, 20, of Massachusetts, a junior at the University of New England in Morocco, told them he’s fine. At first, Hooker said, he was confused by their questions.

Then he went online.

“Oh my God,” he said as he read about the deadly, magnitude-6.8 quake that has killed more than 2,100 people 300 miles away from Tangier. He understood why his family was so frightened for his safety.

Since the quake hit, an atmosphere of shock and sadness has fallen over the city, he said.


Their campus wasn’t physically damaged, Hooker said Sunday in a telephone interview from the campus in Tangier. “We didn’t have any structural damage. We didn’t feel any shaking.” He was in the campus academic building when huge lights suspended from the ceiling began “swinging like crazy.” He suspects it was the quake.

Since then, normal routines have stopped, he said.

Bars have been closed for three days for a period of mourning, said Amaya West, 20, another UNE student at the Tangier campus.

On a typical Saturday the streets are busy and crowded, Hooker said. The day after the quake, the streets were empty. “Everyone is in shock and everyone is mourning all the lost ones,” he said. Even though students in Tangier were not physically impacted, “we are all affected emotionally. It was hard. It was heavy yesterday.”

Each day there are five daily calls to prayer at the city’s mosques. On Saturday, “it was different,” Hooker said.

“They usually go off all at once,” chanting prayers in each mosque at the same time. The day after the quake, each mosque took turns. One faithful chanted in one mosque, then the next mosque went, then another, filling the air with the sound of somber prayer. “They’re paying respects.”


West, of Connecticut, said after the quake hit she saw a notification on her phone. “The first thing I did was text my family to let them know I was fine before they texted me,” she said during an interview from the Tangier campus.

As she continued to monitor the news, “it is really devastating. I kept seeing all day the death tolls going up. It’s really depressing. It’s just getting worse.”

Much of the death, destruction, and injuries happened in mountainous areas where homes and buildings lack modern infrastructure and are more susceptible to an earthquake. Morocco is not in a high-risk area for quakes, the two students said, and no major quake has hit the country for more than a century.

West said she’s grateful that people on her campus are trying to find ways the UNE faculty and students can volunteer and assist victims. “For me, and for a lot of us, our first thought is what can we do to help, or just to not be a burden at least.”

Along with other UNE students, West and Hooker donated blood Sunday to help the victims, they said.

They were both to be part of a trip to Marrakech, near where the quake struck. That trip has been postponed.


They will go, but they don’t want to be tourists. “We want to try and help as much we can,” she said.

On Saturday, UNE President James Herbert said he was devastated to learn about the quake and is grateful that the students, professors, and other staff in Tangier were unharmed. The Morocco campus has 40 students, six faculty members, and four staff members from the University of New England.

UNE students first began studying at the North African campus in 2014. When it opened the Tangier campus, the university announced the goal was to create new cultural and educational opportunities for students and help them become problem solvers in the ever-increasing global society.

In his statement Saturday, Herbert said the university has formed deep ties with Morocco, and that students and faculty members will help quake victims. Students aren’t just there to study and tour a country, he said, they are invested in Morocco’s communities.

West and Hooker said they’ve been in Morocco for several weeks, and the people they’ve met in Morocco have been kind.

Most people speak Arabic there in a local dialect. Both are studying the language. People in Tangier also speak a bit of French, English, and Spanish, West said.


“The culture here is so much more accepting than I’ve experienced in places in America that I’ve been to,” she said. So far she has found Morocco “so welcoming and friendly here.”

Hooker is studying physics and organic chemistry, and majoring in oceanography. He’d like to work for NASA, in oceanography, and start that voyage by working at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on Cape Cod.

West is studying medical biology. In Morocco, she plans to volunteer at a women’s clinic to help them learn different work tasks. She is considering a career researching treatments for cancer and alternative treatments for incurable diagnoses, including mental health.

“In the future, I hope I’m doing research and making a difference and helping people get better who never thought they could,” she said.

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