Home World Anger and despair after the Morocco earthquake as communities wait for help

Anger and despair after the Morocco earthquake as communities wait for help

Anger and despair after the Morocco earthquake as communities wait for help

AMIZMIZ, Morocco – Communities near the epicenter of a powerful earthquake in Morocco were a picture of devastation and anger on Sunday, as residents described using their bare hands to pull their loved ones from under the rubble. In most places, there was no sign of the rescue teams promised by the government, and there has been no news yet from many villages high in the mountains.

More than 2,122 people were killed and more than 2,400 injured in the 6.8-magnitude earthquake that destroyed homes and shattered lives throughout the High Atlas Mountains, Moroccan authorities said late Saturday. Three days of mourning have been declared across the country, and the death toll is expected to rise as the full scale of the tragedy emerges.

In the small town of Amizmiz, buildings were still collapsing Sunday afternoon, about 40 hours after the quake that struck Friday night. In one house, traces of its former inhabitants can be seen in the ruins of the second-floor ceiling: velvet blankets, suitcases, rugs, and drooping bedding. The survivors moved to higher ground and set up tents on areas of dry, flat land.

Although aid began to flow into Amizmiz, an administrative center located in a mountainous valley, search and rescue teams did not arrive. The sound of sirens could be heard in the distance, as ambulances raced down the main road towards villages deep in the countryside.

Morocco deployed its army to lead search and rescue efforts, while relief groups set up shelters for residents who lost their homes, or who cannot return to them due to structural damage or fear of aftershocks.

In the center of Amizmiz, an angry crowd surrounded a Moroccan soldier. “This is chaos,” one man shouted.

The earthquake zone is wide, remote and rugged. Many roads remain blocked by debris. Countless numbers of collapsed homes still need to be searched for survivors. Some of the worst-hit areas can only be reached by helicopter.

Offers of support poured in from around the world, and specialist rescue teams across the European Union were ready to deploy. An assessment team arrived from the United States on Sunday to support the Moroccan government’s efforts.

“We have USAID, which is leading these efforts, and they are ready to go,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN. “We are waiting for word from the Moroccan government to find out how we can help, and where we can help.”

But by 5pm local time on Sunday, Moroccan authorities had only accepted help from a handful of countries.

The Tunisian Ministry of Interior said on Sunday that it would send a team of about 50 people, including medical staff and dogs, in addition to a temporary field hospital, thermal monitoring devices, and a drone. Qatar and Spain also said they had sent search and rescue teams.

Ali Wali Abdel Ghani, 40, said that his family has lived in Amizmiz for more than a century. Their house is gone now. “There is nothing left,” he said. “It’s just God’s will. What matters is that everyone, my family, is safe.”

In the absence of government assistance, the community came together. Relatives in Europe sent money. Neighbors opened their homes and stores. “If half your house is damaged and you still have some furniture and some food, you share it with people whose homes were completely destroyed,” Abdul Ghani said.

After the initial shock, butcher Daher Murad reopened his shop on Sunday so locals could eat. “My shop survived, thank God, maybe to help,” he said. He recalled horrific details about the earthquake: “Horrific scenes, broken limbs, and people running around madly.”

“We haven’t slept since,” he said. “We are pulling people out of the rubble.”

Civil society tends to be strong here, according to academics who study the region, a legacy of state neglect. The most affected provinces are among the poorest in Morocco, and have struggled in recent years to recover from the economic shock of the pandemic, and more recently to deal with inflation and rising food prices.

In the village of Ait Targit, which is closest to the epicenter of the earthquake, Aziz Ladeeb said that about 70 residents owe their lives to this sense of community. When the ground began to shake, neighbors ran through the streets to wake up those still sleeping. He said they shouted “earthquake” and banged on doors.

In Moulay Brahim, a cement-brick village with pink-walled buildings, 30-year-old graphic designer Mustafa Ichid said the only food aid reaching the community came from civic groups. He added: “Moroccan citizens sent them all to their brothers.” “We saw ambulances, but most of them had foreign license plates.”

Drone footage from the area showed landscapes of destroyed homes and businesses. What remained of several roofs fell over the few brick walls still standing. “People are starving, they are hungry and thirsty, and there is no running water,” Etchedi said.

He was with his friend Abdel Samad before the earthquake, arguing about football, joking and gossiping about friends. They parted ways at 10:45 that night. The ground started shaking at 11:11.

Ichide fainted as the air filled with screams. He woke up to learn that Abdel Samad had been crushed while running to save his mother from their collapsing house. At the bottom of the mountain, two other friends the couple had spent the night joking with also died.

He said that at that moment he felt as if he had fallen into a dream. “I didn’t wake up from it,” he said.

Echidi was still helping to pull other young men out of the rubble late Sunday, before sleeping another night outside in the cold mountain air.

“I didn’t fully understand what happened,” he said.

Lovelac reported from London and Mahfouz from Cairo. Matt Feiser in Washington contributed to this report.

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