Search for Morocco earthquake survivors continues as flattened towns remain cut off

Search for Morocco earthquake survivors continues as flattened towns remain cut off

Tuesday 12/09/2023
Women comfort each other at a funeral in Moulay Brahim at the weekend.(Reuters: Hannah McKay)

Abdarazak Abou Aalam skips down the street past piles of rubble, until he reaches what remains of his neighbour's house.

A buckled wall on one side, tattered bed sheets strewn between flattened furniture and crumpled concrete.

"This is a house that collapsed and six people died," the 11-year-old boy says.

Abdarazak points to an opening big enough for an adult to crawl through.

"This is the place where they pulled the bodies from."

The boy's village of Moulay Brahim, in Morocco's High Atlas Mountains, was devastated by Friday's magnitude-6.8 earthquake, which has so far killed more than 2,400 people and injured even more.

More than two days after the disaster struck, authorities are still searching for survivors amid the ruins.

Some towns have been flattened entirely, while damaged roads have left others cut off completely.

In hundreds of villages spread through the towering peaks and winding roads of the High Atlas Mountains, families have set up makeshift shelters from scraps of wood and plastic.

Many don't have a home to go to, and the ones who do are scared aftershocks might make returning too dangerous.

Food and other basic supplies have dwindled in places where shops and infrastructure have been destroyed.

Rescue crews are struggling to reach many places and some locals have resorted to trying to clear blocked roads by hand.

Moulay Ibrahim was about 40 kilometres from the epicentre of the quake.

"We have some dead people who need to be moved and buried," says 19-year-old Abdel Fattah El Akari, who was visiting his parents in the area when the ground shook on Friday evening.

They rushed out to the street when they felt the first tremor just in time to witness the living room where they had been sitting only seconds earlier turn into a cloud of dust.

"The people here don't have much. This is a poor area," Abdel says, referring to the surrounding villages.

The survivors in this area have similar stories.

How to help Moroccan earthquake victims Charities are appealing for funds to help those affected access basic necessities and medical assistance.

People sitting on the ground Read more Another Moulay Ibrahim resident, Aisha Ait Ali, was clearing up after dinner on Friday when she left to go downstairs and speak with her children.

Her husband decided to go to bed on the second floor, and was killed when the quake struck and the house's roof collapsed.

"God made it happen this way," Aisha says through tears.

At night, people here now sleep on mats outside, something they know will be untenable when the temperature drops and autumn sets in.

They're eating scraps of bread and whatever spices and vegetables they have been able to scavenge from the ruins of their homes.

In Marrakech, an ancient city built around its storied old centre, buildings have been flattened where only days earlier tourists had gathered in big crowds.

On streets along major roads and in public squares, hundreds of families crowd the grassy verges in the city, trying to find a place to sleep.

Dozens of countries including Spain, the US, France and Türkiye have since Friday offered to send help in the form of humanitarian aid and rescue teams.

Morocco's government took time to formally accept, meaning few international teams have yet arrived.

At the weekend, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a social media post there had been a "devastating loss of life and destruction of property".

Australia has not yet made an official announcement on what it might offer.

While earthquakes of the scale seen on Friday are rare in Morocco, previous major tremors have proven deadly, especially in the country's northern areas close to the Azores-Gibraltar Transform Fault.

In 2004, more than 600 people were killed when a major tremor struck the coastal city of Al Hoceima.

Its most deadly quake occurred in 1960, when it is estimated up to 15,000 people were killed in and around Agadir, which was almost totally destroyed.

Back in the village of Moulay Brahim, Abdarazak sits despondent in the shade with some of his neighbours.

The initial stress of the quake has faded to a mild boredom.

He was supposed to be starting year 7 soon, but his school has been destroyed.

Though his mother has tried to reassure him the quake has passed, Abdarazak is still struggling to wrap his head around the disaster.

"It was like a dream," he says.

Story by Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner

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