April 13, 2024, Saturday
Nepal 1:37:26 pm

Morocco Earthauake toll crosses 2,400 as soldiers and aid teams battle to reach remote

The Nepal Weekly
September 12, 2023

Moroccan soldiers and aid teams in trucks and helicopters battled Monday to reach remote mountain towns hit by a devastating earthquake that killed more than 2,400 people, with survivors desperate for help to find loved ones feared trapped under the rubble.

Moroccan officials have so far accepted government-offered aid from just four countries — Spain, Qatar, Britain and the United Arab Emirates — and some foreign aid teams said they were awaiting permission to deploy. Morocco’s Interior Ministry says officials want to avoid a lack of coordination as it “would be counterproductive.”

The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people were affected by Friday night’s magnitude 6.8 tremor, made more dangerous by its relatively shallow depth.

Most of the destruction and deaths were in Al Haouz province in the High Atlas Mountains, where homes folded in on themselves and steep, winding roads became clogged with rubble. Residents sometimes cleared away rocks themselves. People cheered when trucks full of soldiers arrived Sunday in the town of Amizmiz. But they pleaded for more help.

“It’s a catastrophe,’’ said survivor Salah Ancheu in the town where mountainside homes and a mosque’s minaret collapsed.

“We don’t know what the future is. The aid remains insufficient,” the 28-year-old said.

Army units deployed Monday along a paved road leading from Amizmiz to remoter mountain villages. State news agency MAP reported that bulldozers and other equipment were being used to clear the routes. Tourists and residents lined up to give blood. In some villages, people wept as boys and helmet-clad police carried the dead through streets.

Aid offers poured in from around the world. About 100 teams made up of a total of 3,500 rescuers are registered with a U.N. platform and ready to deploy in Morocco when asked, Rescuers Without Borders informed.

A Spanish search-and-rescue team reached Marrakech and headed to the rural Talat N’Yaaqoub, said, Spain’s Emergency Military Unit. Britain sent a 60-person search team with four dogs, medical staff, listening devices and concrete-cutting gear.

But other aid teams overseas that were poised to deploy expressed frustration that they couldn’t step in without government approval. Germany had a team of more than 50 rescuers waiting near Cologne-Bonn Airport but sent them home, news agency dpa reported.

The Czech Republic said it had a team of 70 rescuers ready to go and is waiting for permission to take off.

France, which has many ties to Morocco and said four of its citizens died in the quake, said Monday that authorities in the North African country are evaluating proposals on a case-by-case basis.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said Morocco is “the master of its choices, which must be respected.” She announced 5 million euros ($5.4 million) in emergency funds for Moroccan and international non-governmental groups rushing to help survivors. French towns and cities have offered more than 2 million euros ($2.1 million) in aid, and popular performers are also collecting donations.

Those left homeless — or fearing more aftershocks — have slept outside in the streets of the ancient city of Marrakech or under makeshift canopies in devastated Atlas Mountain towns like Moulay Brahim.

“I was asleep when the earthquake struck. I could not escape because the roof fell on me. I was trapped. I was saved by my neighbors who cleared the rubble with their bare hands,” described Fatna Bechar. “Now, I am living with them in their house as mine was completely destroyed.”