AMIZMIZ, Morocco — Moroccans slept in the streets of Marrakech for the third night in a row as soldiers and international humanitarian teams in trucks and helicopters began deploying to the remote mountain towns hardest hit by a historic earthquake.
The disaster killed more than 2,100 people – a number expected to rise – and the United Nations estimated that 300,000 people were affected by the 6.8 magnitude earthquake on Friday evening.
Amid offers from several countries, including the United States and France, Moroccan officials said Sunday they were accepting international aid from just four countries: Spain, Qatar, Britain and the Arab Emirates United.
“Moroccan authorities have carefully assessed the needs on the ground, keeping in mind that a lack of coordination in such cases would be counterproductive,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
While some foreign search and rescue teams arrived Sunday as an aftershock shook Moroccans already grieving and in shock, other humanitarian teams ready to deploy became frustrated waiting for the government to formally request help.
“We know there is a great urgency to save people and dig under the remains of buildings,” said Arnaud Fraisse, founder of Secours sans frontières, who had a team stranded in Paris waiting for the green light. “There are people dying under the rubble and there is nothing we can do to save them. »
READ: A powerful earthquake kills more than 2,000 people in Morocco; damaged historic buildings
Help was slowly arriving in Amizmiz, where an entire part of the town, made up of orange and red sandstone brick houses carved into the mountainside, appeared to be missing. The minaret of a mosque collapsed.
“It’s a disaster,” said Salah Ancheu, 28, a villager. “We don’t know what the future is. Aid remains insufficient.
Residents swept rubble from the main road leading into the town and people cheered as trucks full of soldiers arrived. But they pleaded for more help.
“There are no ambulances, there are no police, at least at the moment,” Ancheu said, speaking of many parts of the region on Sunday morning.
Those left homeless – or fearing further aftershocks – slept outside on Saturday, on the streets of Marrakech’s old city or under makeshift awnings in hard-hit towns in the Atlas Mountains, like Moulay Brahim . There, as in Amizmiz, it was residents who were most worried about the damage in hard-to-reach communities. The worst destruction has occurred in rural communities that rely on unpaved roads that wind through scree-covered mountainous terrain.
According to the US Geological Survey, these areas were shaken again on Sunday by an aftershock with a magnitude of 3.9. It was not immediately clear whether it caused more damage or casualties, but it was likely powerful enough to shake nerves in areas where damage made buildings unstable and residents feared aftershocks.
In a region where many build bricks with mud, Friday’s earthquake toppled buildings not strong enough to withstand such a powerful jolt, trapping people in the rubble and sending others fleeing in terror. A total of 2,122 people were confirmed dead and at least 2,421 others were injured, 1,404 of them seriously, the Interior Ministry reported.
The ministry said most of the dead – 1,351 – were in the Al Haouz district in the High Atlas Mountains.
Flags were lowered across Morocco as King Mohammed VI ordered three days of national mourning starting Sunday. The army mobilized search and rescue teams and the king ordered water, food rations and shelter to be sent to those who had lost their homes.
He also called on mosques to hold prayers on Sunday for the victims, many of whom were buried on Saturday amid the frenzy of rescue efforts nearby.
READ: Morocco earthquake kills more than 1,000, rescuers dig for survivors
Despite saying for the first time on Sunday that it would accept aid from four countries, Morocco did not launch an international appeal for help as Turkey did in the hours that followed a massive earthquake earlier this year, according to humanitarian groups.
Offers of help poured in from around the world and the UN said it had a team in Morocco to coordinate international support. Around a hundred teams of 3,500 rescuers are registered with a UN platform and ready to deploy to Morocco on request, Secours Sans Frontières said. Germany had a team of more than 50 rescuers waiting near Cologne-Bonn airport but sent them home, the dpa news agency reported.
A Spanish search and rescue team arrived in Marrakech and headed towards the rural area of Talat N’Yaaqoub, according to the Spanish Military Emergency Unit. Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said in a radio interview that Moroccan authorities had asked for help. Another rescue team from Nice, France, was also on the way.
Czech officials said earlier that the country was sending about 70 trained rescue team members to search through the rubble after receiving an official request from the Moroccan government. Czech Defense Minister Jana Cernochova said three military planes were ready to transport the team.
In France, which has many ties to Morocco and said four of its citizens died in the quake, cities have offered more than 2 million euros ($2.1 million) in aid. Popular artists collect donations.
The epicenter of Friday’s quake was near the town of Ighil in Al Haouz province, about 70 kilometers (44 miles) south of Marrakech. The region is known for its picturesque villages and valleys nestled in the High Atlas Mountains.
Devastation gripped every town along the steep, winding switchbacks of the High Atlas, with houses folded in on themselves and people weeping as boys and helmeted police carried the dead through the streets.
“I was sleeping when the earthquake hit. I couldn’t escape because the roof fell on me. I was trapped. I was saved by my neighbors who cleared the rubble with their bare hands,” Fatna Bechar told Moulay Brahim. “Now I live with them in their house because mine was completely destroyed. »
There was little time for mourning as survivors tried to salvage anything from the damaged homes.
Khadija Fairouje’s face was swollen from crying as she joined her relatives and neighbors in carrying goods through the stone-strewn streets. She had lost her daughter and three grandsons aged 4 to 11 when their house collapsed while they were asleep less than 48 hours earlier.
” There is nothing left. Everything fell,” said his sister, Hafida Fairouje.
The Mohammed V Foundation for Solidarity is coordinating aid to around 15,000 families in Al Haouz province, including food, medical aid, emergency accommodation and blankets, the news agency said MAP official quoting the head of the organization, Youssef Rabouli, after his visit to the region.
Rescuers, supported by soldiers and police, searched collapsed houses in the isolated town of Adassil, near the epicenter. Military vehicles brought in bulldozers and other equipment to clear the roads, MAP reported. Ambulances transported dozens of injured people from the village of Tikht, populated by 800 inhabitants, to the Mohammed VI university hospital in Marrakech.
In Marrakech, large chunks were missing from a crenellated roof, and warped metal, crumbled concrete and dust were all that remained of a building cordoned off by police.
Tourists and residents lined up to donate blood.
“I didn’t even think twice about it,” Jalila Guerina told the Associated Press, “especially in the conditions where people are dying, especially at this moment when they need help, any what a help.” She spoke of her duty as a Moroccan citizen.
The quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 when it struck at 11:11 p.m. and lasted several seconds, the USGS said. A magnitude 4.9 aftershock occurred 19 minutes later, according to the release. The collision of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates occurred at a relatively shallow depth, making an earthquake more dangerous.
It was the most powerful earthquake to hit the North African country in more than 120 years, according to USGS records dating to 1900, but it was not the deadliest. In 1960, a 5.8 magnitude tremor struck near the city of Agadir, killing at least 12,000 people. This earthquake prompted Morocco to change construction rules, but many buildings, especially rural homes, cannot withstand such tremors.
In 2004, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake near the Mediterranean coastal city of Al Hoceima killed more than 600 people.
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