Morocco survivors seek aid as earthquake toll passes 2,100

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Morocco survivors seek aid as earthquake toll passes 2,100 © Reuters. A general view of damage following a powerful earthquake in Amizmiz, Morocco, September 9, 2023. REUTERS/Abdelhak Balhaki

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By Jihed Abidellaoui, Alexander Cornwell and Ahmed Eljechtimi

MOULAY BRAHIM, Morocco (Reuters) – Survivors of Morocco’s deadliest earthquake in more than six decades struggled to find food, water and shelter on Sunday as the search for the missing continued in remote villages and the death toll of more than 2,100 seemed likely to rise further.

Many people were preparing to spend a third night in the open after the 6.8 magnitude quake hit late on Friday. Relief workers face the challenge of reaching the worst-affected villages in the High Atlas (NYSE:), a rugged mountain range where settlements are often remote and where many houses crumbled.

The death toll climbed to 2,122 with 2,421 people injured.

The damage done to Morocco’s cultural heritage became more evident as local media reported the collapse of a historically important 12th century mosque. The quake also damaged parts of Marrakech old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In Moulay Brahim, a village 40 km (25 miles) south of Marrakech, residents described how they dug the dead from the rubble using their bare hands.

On a hillside overlooking the village, residents buried a 45-year-old woman who had died along with her 18-year-old son, a woman sobbing loudly as the body was lowered into the grave.

As he retrieved possessions from his damaged home, Hussein Adnaie said he believed people were still buried in the rubble nearby. “They didn’t get the rescue they needed so they died. I rescued my children and I’m trying to get covers for them and anything to wear from the house,” he said.

Yassin Noumghar, 36, complained of shortages of water, food and power, saying he had received little government aid so far.

“We lost everything, we lost the entire house,” he said.

“We want just for our government to help us.”

Later, sacks of food were unloaded from a truck which local official Mouhamad al-Hayyan said had been organised by the government and civil society organisations.

Twenty-five bodies had been brought to the village’s small clinic, according to staff.

With many homes built of mud bricks and timber or cement and breeze blocks, structures crumbled easily. It was Morocco’s deadliest quake since 1960 when a tremor was estimated to have killed at least 12,000 people.

In the badly hit village of Amizmiz, residents watched as rescuers used a mechanical digger on a collapsed house.

“They are looking for a man and his son. One of them might still be alive,” said Hassan Halouch, a retired builder.

The team eventually recovered only bodies.

The army, mobilised to help the rescue effort, set up a camp with tents for the homeless.

With most shops damaged or closed, residents struggled to get food and supplies.

“We’re still waiting for tents. We haven’t had anything yet,” said Mohammed Nejjar, a labourer, who was folding his blanket in a makeshift shelter constructed with bits of wood.

“I had a little food offered by one man but that’s all since the earthquake. You can’t see a single shop open here and people are frightened to go inside in case the roof falls down.”

The government said on Saturday it was taking urgent measures to address the disaster including reinforcing search and rescue teams, providing drinking water and distributing food, tents and blankets.

FOREIGN AID

Spain said 56 officers and four sniffer dogs had arrived in Morocco, while a second team of 30 people and 4 dogs was heading there. Britain said it was deploying 60 search and rescue specialists and 4 dogs on Sunday, as well as a four person medical assessment team. Qatar also said its search and rescue team had departed for Morocco.

U.S. President Joe Biden expressed his “sadness about the loss of life and devastation” caused by the qauke. “We stand ready to provide any necessary assistance to the Moroccan people,” he said at a news conference in Hanoi, Vietnam.

The United States dispatched a small team of disaster experts to Morocco to assess the situation. A U.S. official said they arrived there on Sunday.

France said it stood ready to help and was awaiting a formal request from Morocco. “France is ready to offer its aid to Morocco if Morocco decides it is useful,” President Emmanuel Macron said at the G20 Summit in New Delhi.

Other countries offering assistance include Turkey, where earthquakes in February killed more than 50,000 people. By Sunday, the Turkish team had not yet departed.

“The next 2-3 days will be critical for finding people trapped under the rubble,” Caroline Holt, global director of operations for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told Reuters.

She said the international aid system has been waiting for an invitation from Morocco to assist, adding this was not necessarily unusual as the government assesses needs.

A spokesperson for Morocco’s government did not immediately respond to Reuters phone calls seeking comment.

PRAYERS FOR THE DEAD

The World Health Organization said more than 300,000 people have been affected by the disaster.

Pope Francis offered prayers and solidarity for the victims.

Morocco has declared three days of mourning and King Mohammed VI called for prayers for the dead to be held at mosques across the country.

The quake’s epicentre was 72 km (45 miles) southwest of Marrakech, a city beloved of Moroccans and foreign tourists for its medieval mosques, palaces and seminaries richly adorned with vivid mosaic tiling amid a labyrinth of rose-hued alleyways.

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