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Morocco survivors seek help as earthquake toll passes 2,100

  • The latest figures from the Ministry of the Interior put the death toll at 2,122, with 2,421 people injured.
  • The World Health Organization said more than 300,000 people were affected by the disaster.

Rescuers search for survivors in a collapsed house in Moulay Brahim, Al Haousi province, September 9, 2023, after an earthquake.

Fadel Senna Afp | Getty Images

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 people looked set to rise further.

Many people were preparing to spend a third night in the open after the 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck on Friday. Aid workers are facing the challenge of reaching the most affected villages in the High Atlas, a rugged mountain range where settlements are often isolated and where many houses have collapsed.

The death toll rose to 2,122 with 2,421 injured.

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

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

On the slope facing this village, the villagers buried a forty-five (45) old woman who died along with her eighteen-year-old son, the woman crying loudly when the body was lowered into the grave.

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

Yassin Noumghar, 36, complained of a lack of water, food and energy, saying he had received little help from the government so far.

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

“We just want our government to help us.”

After a while, bags of food were unloaded from the truck, which local official Mouhamad al-Hayyan said was organized by the government and civil society organizations.

Twenty-five corpses were brought to the village’s small clinic, according to staff.

Since many houses were built with mud bricks and wood or cement and blocks blown by the wind, those buildings collapsed easily. It was the deadliest earthquake in Morocco since 1960 when it is estimated that the earthquake killed at least 12,000 people.

In the badly affected village of Amizmiz, residents watch as rescuers use an excavator to dig into a collapsed house.

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

In the end the team found only dead bodies.

The army, mobilized to aid rescue efforts, set up a tented camp for the homeless.

Many shops were damaged or closed, residents were struggling to find food and supplies.

“We are still waiting for the tents. We don’t have anything yet,” said Mohammed Nejjar, a worker, who was wrapping his blanket in a shelter built from pieces of wood.

“I was carrying a small amount of food which was given by one man but all that happened was the earthquake. You don’t see a single shop open here and people are afraid to go inside in case the roof collapses.”

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

A woman stands in front of her house damaged by an earthquake in the old city of Marrakech on September 9, 2023. A powerful earthquake that rocked Morocco late on September 8 killed more than 600 people, according to statistics from the interior ministry, showing that residents were forced to flee their homes. midnight.

Fadel Senna Afp | Getty Images

Spain said 56 officers and four sniffer dogs had arrived in Morocco, while a second group of 30 people and four dogs were going there. Britain said it was sending 60 search and rescue experts and 4 dogs on Sunday, as well as a four-person medical evaluation team. Qatar also said its search and rescue team had left for Morocco.

US President Joe Biden expressed “sorrow at the loss of life and destruction” caused by the earthquake. “We are ready to provide any necessary assistance to the Moroccan people,” he said at a press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam.

The United States sent a small team of disaster experts to Morocco to assess the situation. The American official said they arrived there on Sunday.

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

Other countries donating aid include Turkey, where earthquakes in February killed more than 50,000 people. On Sunday, the Turkish team was still away.

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

He said the international aid system is waiting for an invitation from Morocco to help, adding that this is unusual as the government assesses the needs.

A Moroccan government spokesman did not immediately respond to calls from Reuters seeking comment.

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

Pope Francis offered prayers and solidarity for the victims.

Morocco declared three days of mourning and King Mohammed VI called for prayers for the dead in mosques across the country.

The epicenter was 72 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of Marrakech, a city popular with Moroccans and foreign tourists for its ancient mosques, palaces and oratory richly decorated with vivid mosaic tile amid a labyrinth of rose-hued alleyways.

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