Aftershock rattles Morocco as rescuers seek survivors from the earthquake that killed over 2,100

AMIZMIZ, Morocco: An aftershock rocked Moroccans on Sunday as they mourned the victims of the nation’s worst earthquake in more than a century and scrambled to rescue survivors as soldiers and aid workers scrambled to reach desperate mountain villages in ruins. The disaster killed more than 2,100 people, a number expected to rise.
The United Nations estimated that 300,000 people were affected by the 6.8-magnitude earthquake on Friday night, and some Moroccans complained on social media that the government was not allowing more outside aid. International aid crews were ready to deploy, but some grew frustrated waiting for the government to formally request their help.
“We know there is a great urgency to rescue people and dig under the remains of buildings,” said Arnaud Fres, founder of Rescuers Without Borders, whose team remained in Paris awaiting the green light. “There are people dying under the rubble and we can’t do anything to save them.
Help was slow to arrive in Amizmiz, where a whole section of the town of orange and red sandstone brick homes carved into the mountainside appeared to be missing. The minaret of a mosque had collapsed.
“It’s a disaster,” said villager Salah Ancheu, 28. “We don’t know what the future holds. Aid remains insufficient.”
Residents swept the debris from the main unpaved road into town and people cheered when trucks full of soldiers arrived. But they were begging for more help.
“No ambulances, no police, at least for now,” Anshu said.
Those left homeless or fearing more aftershocks slept outside on Saturday, on the streets of the ancient city of Marrakesh or under makeshift shelters in Atlas Mountain towns like Moulay Brahim, among the hardest hit. The worst of the destruction was in small rural communities that were hard for rescuers to reach because the roads that wind up the mountainous terrain were covered in fallen rocks.
Those areas were shaken again Sunday by a magnitude 3.9 aftershock, according to the US Geological Survey. It’s unclear whether it caused more damage or casualties, but it was likely strong enough to fray nerves in areas where damage has left buildings unstable and residents fearing aftershocks.
Friday’s quake toppled buildings that weren’t strong enough to withstand such a strong tremor, trapping people in the rubble and sending others fleeing in terror. A total of 2,012 people were confirmed dead and at least another 2,059 people were injured – 1,404 of them in critical condition, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday.
Flags were flown at half-mast in Morocco as King Mohammed VI ordered three days of national mourning starting Sunday. The army has mobilized specialist search and rescue teams, and the king has ordered water, food rations and shelter to be provided to those who have lost their homes.
He also called on mosques to hold Sunday prayers for the victims, many of whom were buried on Saturday amid frantic rescue efforts nearby.
But Morocco has not issued an international appeal for help, as Turkey did in the hours after the powerful earthquake earlier this year, according to aid groups.
Offers of help poured in from around the world and the UN said it had a team in Morocco coordinating international support. About 100 teams, made up of a total of 3,500 rescuers, are registered on a UN platform and are ready to deploy to Morocco upon request, Rescuers Without Borders said. Germany had a team of more than 50 rescuers waiting near Cologne-Bonn airport, but they were sent home, the dpa news agency reported.
In a sign that Morocco may be ready to accept more help, a Spanish search and rescue team arrived in Marrakech and headed for rural Talat N’Yaacoub, according to Spain’s military emergency unit. Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albarez said in a radio interview that Moroccan authorities had asked for help. Another rescue team from Nice, France, was also on the way.
In France, which has many ties to Morocco and said four of its citizens died in the quake, cities offered more than 2 million euros ($2.1 million) in aid. Popular artists collect donations.
The epicenter of Friday’s quake was near the town of Igil in Al Hawz province, about 70 kilometers (44 miles) south of Marrakesh. The region is known for picturesque villages and valleys nestled in the High Atlas Mountains.
Devastation engulfed every town on the steep and winding hills of the High Atlas, with houses collapsing in on themselves and people weeping as boys and helmeted police carried the dead through the streets.
“I was sleeping when the earthquake hit. I couldn’t escape because the roof fell on me. I was trapped. I was saved by my neighbors who cleared the rubble with their bare hands,” said Fatna Bechar in Moulay Brahim. “Now I live with them in their house because mine was completely destroyed.”
There wasn’t much time for mourning as the survivors scrambled to salvage everything from the damaged homes.
Khadija Fairouje’s face was puffy with tears as she joined relatives and neighbors lugging belongings through the stone-strewn streets. She had lost her daughter and three grandchildren, ages 4 to 11, when their home collapsed while they slept less than 48 hours earlier.
“There is nothing left. Everything fell down,” said her sister Hafida Feirouje.
Rescuers, backed by soldiers and police, searched for victims in collapsed homes in the remote town of Adasil, near the epicenter. Military vehicles brought in bulldozers and other equipment to clear the roads of rocks that had crumbled from the mountainsides, state news agency MAP reported. Ambulances took dozens of injured people from the village of Ticht, population 800, to the Mohammed VI University Hospital in Marrakesh.
In Marrakech, where authorities were assessing the damage, large chunks were missing from a jagged roof and twisted metal, broken concrete and dust were all that remained of a building cordoned off with police tape.
Tourists and residents lined up to donate desperately needed blood. Jalila Guerina said she ran to help when she learned of the need because of her duties as a Moroccan citizen.
“I didn’t even think twice about it,” she told The Associated Press, “especially in the conditions that people are dying in, especially at this time when they need help, any help.”
At the market, stray cats clambered over piles of stones and wooden bars, but shoppers were scarce at stalls set up under umbrellas by food and souvenir vendors.
The quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 when it struck at 11:11 p.m., lasting several seconds, the USGS said. A magnitude 4.9 aftershock struck 19 minutes later, the statement said. The collision of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates occurred at a relatively shallow depth, making the earthquake more dangerous.
It was the strongest earthquake to hit the North African country in more than 120 years, according to the USGS, which has records dating back to 1900, but it was not the deadliest. In 1960, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck near the Moroccan city of Agadir, killing at least 12,000 people. This earthquake prompted Morocco to change building codes, but many buildings, especially rural houses, are not built to withstand such tremors.
In 2004, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake near the Mediterranean coastal city of Al Hoceima left over 600 dead.
Friday’s quake was felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria, according to Portugal’s Institute of the Sea and Atmosphere and Algeria’s civil protection agency.

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