Morocco earthquake: Aid teams work to reach remote towns as toll rises past 2,400


The toll of the massive earthquake that devastated Morocco could be seen Monday in dozens of remote villages such as Tafeghaghte, where more than half of the 160 inhabitants are thought to have died.

With most of the community flattened, survivors worked to clear debris, recover the dead and steer the living away from buildings teetering on the edge of collapse from aftershocks.

The villagers toiled in a scene of horror: The air was filled with the stench of dead cattle. Other animals remained trapped in debris. Bloody bandages were strewn around the streets. Although the community has received food and water, it needs much more.

“It’s a catastrophe,” said survivor Salah Ancheu, who lives in nearby Amizmiz. “We don’t know what the future is. The aid remains insufficient.”

The efforts in Tafeghaghte mirrored those happening across the North African country’s disaster zone as survivors worked alongside bulldozers to dig through rubble and hope dwindled of finding people alive under the wood-and-dirt homes that collapsed.

Friday’s earthquake — the strongest in Morocco in more than a century — killed nearly 2,700 people.

Meanwhile, rescuers overseas waited for Morocco to let them help. So far, Moroccan officials have accepted government aid from just four countries — Spain, Qatar, Britain and the United Arab Emirates.

Morocco’s Interior Ministry says officials want to avoid a lack of coordination that “would be counterproductive.”

The leader of one of several rescue teams waiting across Europe said Moroccan authorities may remember the chaos that unfolded after a smaller quake in 2004, when international teams overwhelmed the airport and the damaged roads into the hardest hit areas.

Rescuers Without Borders’ founder Arnaud Fraisse told The Associated Press he is withdrawing the organization’s offer to send nine people to Morocco because “our role is not to find bodies.”

Homes crumbled into dust and debris, choking out the air pockets that might allow some people to survive for days under rubble.

“People are generally suffocated by the dust,” Fraisse said.

The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people were affected by the magnitude 6.8 quake, which was 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 steep and winding roads became clogged with rubble leaving villagers to fend for themselves.

Khadija Babamou came from her home in Amizmiz to Tafeghaghte, to check on relatives. She covered her mouth and began to cry as she gripped her sister. “God save us,” she said.

Ibrahim Wahdouch lost two young daughters and two other family members. He said the village looked as if it had been bombed in a war.

“There’s not shooting but look around,” he said.

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.

In Amizmiz, the larger town about 6 kilometres (4 miles) down a twisty road from Tafeghaghte, residents cheered Sunday as soldiers arrived. The Army units headed out to the remote villages.

State news agency MAP reported that bulldozers and other equipment are being used to clear 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.

More help could have quickly poured into Morocco with the government’s permission. Fraisse of Rescuers Without Borders said about 100 rescue teams — with roughly 3,000 rescuers in total — are registered with the U.N. to help.

“It’s their responsibility. They can do what they want,” Fraisse said. “They didn’t call. So today we think it’s no longer necessary for us to go there, because we won’t do effective work.”

A Spanish search-and-rescue team arrived in Marrakech and headed to the rural town of Talat N’Yaaqoub, according to Spain’s emergency military unit. Britain sent a 60-person search team with four dogs, medical staff, listening devices and concrete-cutting gear.

France, which has many ties to Morocco and at least four of its citizens among the dead, said Moroccan authorities 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 (US$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 (US$2.1 million) in aid, and popular performers are collecting donations.

The quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. A total of 2,681 people were confirmed dead, with nearly 1,600 of them from the hardest-hit Al Haouz province, the Moroccan Interior Ministry reported.

Nearly all the dead have already been buried, the government reported. More than 2,500 people were injured.

Morocco’s deadliest quake was a magnitude 5.8 temblor in 1960 that struck near the city of Agadir, killing at least 12,000. It prompted Morocco to change construction rules, but many buildings, especially rural homes, are not built to withstand such shaking.


Associated Press journalists Mark Carlson in Marrakech, Morocco; Houda Benalla in Rabat, Morocco; Angela Charlton, Elaine Ganley and John Leicester in Paris; Jill Lawless in London; and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed.


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