Race against time to save survivors buried in rubble

Morocco faces a race against time to rescue those trapped under the rubble of Friday’s earthquake, as emergency services battle to supply remote areas.

Villagers continue to dig by hand and shovel to find survivors as response teams scramble to bring in machinery.

Those same tools may now be needed to prepare graves for some of the thousands killed in the earthquake.

People “have nothing left,” a villager told the BBC. “People are hungry. Children want water. They need help.”

Friday’s earthquake, the country’s deadliest in 60 years, struck beneath a remote cluster of mountain villages south of Marrakesh.

The government reported that at least 2,122 people were killed and more than 2,421 injured, many critically.

The 6.8-magnitude tremor collapsed homes, blocked roads and swayed buildings as far as the country’s northern coast.

The old city of Marrakesh, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, suffered damage.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI declared three days of national mourning on Saturday as the aftermath continued to unfold.

Civil protection units have been deployed to increase stocks in blood banks, water, food, tents and blankets, the palace said.

But it admitted that some of the worst-hit areas were so remote that it was impossible to reach them in the hours after the quake – the most crucial period for many of the injured.

Fallen rocks partially blocked the already poorly maintained roads into the High Atlas mountains, the location of many of the worst affected areas.

Three mourners cry during a funeral in Moulay Brahim, Morocco

Survivors in remote villages began burying loved ones

Many buildings were reduced to rubble in the small town of Amizmiz, in a valley in the mountains about 34 miles (55 km) south of Marrakesh.

The local hospital is empty and considered unsafe to enter. Patients are instead being treated in tents on the hospital premises – but staff are overwhelmed.

A hospital official, who asked not to be named, said about 100 bodies were brought there on Saturday.

“I cried because there were so many dead, especially the young children,” he said. “I haven’t slept since the earthquake. None of us have.”

Beyond the hospital the streets are full of rubble from destroyed buildings, heavy traffic and those who lost everything due to the earthquake.

A woman groans in sorrow and is held by those around her.

There are more tents on the side of the roads for people who have lost their homes, but not everyone has them.

Dozens of people sleep on carpets laid on the ground in the central square.

Abdelkarim Brouri, 63, is one of those whose house partially collapsed and has nothing to protect him from the elements.

“I can’t go home,” he said, begging for more help. “We help each other. There is no help coming from outside.”

“We used blankets to make a tent,” said Ali Ait Youssef, another Amizmiz resident. “The tents that the government has distributed are not enough.”

In a nearby village, crude graves covered with sticks and stones marked some of the 100 residents killed.

Gravediggers prepared more because locals said they had yet to receive any official support and were left to find and bury the dead themselves.

“Ready to deploy”

International efforts to aid the recovery began to increase.

The UK said Morocco had accepted an offer to deploy emergency response teams, including rescue specialists, a medical team, search dogs and equipment.

Spain and Qatar also said they had received formal requests and would send search and rescue teams.

France said it “is ready” to help but is awaiting a formal request from Morocco. “The second they ask for this help, it will be deployed,” President Emmanuel Macron said.

The US said “search and rescue teams ready to deploy… We are also ready to release funds at the right time.”

Turkey, which suffered its own catastrophic earthquake in February that killed 50,000, also offered but received no formal request.

A BBC reporter saw Spanish sniffer dogs in a village in the Atlas Mountains on Sunday.

Caroline Holt, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told Reuters that the next “two to three days will be critical in finding people trapped under the rubble”.

Meanwhile, relatives began burying dozens of dead in the almost completely destroyed village of Tafeghaghte, 37 miles (60 km) southwest of Marrakesh.

“Three of my grandchildren and their mother are dead,” said Omar Benhanna, 72. “They’re still under the debris. It wasn’t that long ago that we played together.”

In the city of Agadir, along the southern Atlantic coast, a woman named Hakima described how she fled her village, Msouna, after losing four relatives in the “catastrophic” shocks.

Neighbors pulled her out of the rubble, she said – but no help had yet reached Msouna and nearby settlements.

“My family lost their homes, their possessions – they have nothing left,” she said. “People are hungry. Children just want water. They need help.”

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