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Morocco earthquake: Moroccans sleep on the streets for third night after earthquake kills more than 2,100

AMIZMIZ, Morocco (AP) – People in Morocco slept on the streets of Marrakech for a third night in a row as soldiers and international aid teams in trucks and helicopters began to ease into the remote mountain towns hardest hit by a historic earthquake.

The disaster killed more than 2,100 people, a figure expected to rise, and the United Nations estimated that 300,000 people were affected by Friday night’s magnitude 6.8 earthquake.

Amid offers from several countries, including the United States and France, Moroccan officials said Sunday they are accepting international aid from just four countries: Spain, Qatar, Britain and the United Arab Emirates.

“Moroccan authorities have carefully assessed the needs on the ground, bearing in mind that a lack of coordination in these cases would be counterproductive,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

While some foreign search and rescue teams arrived on Sunday as an aftershock shook Moroccans already in mourning and shock, other aid teams about to deploy were frustrated waiting for the government to officially ask for help.

“We know there is a great urgency to save people and dig under the remains of buildings,” said Arnaud Fraisse, founder of Rescuers Without Borders, which had a team stuck in Paris waiting for the green light. “There are people dying under the rubble and there is nothing we can do to save them.”

Help took time to reach Amizmiz, where an entire town of orange and red sandstone brick houses carved into a mountain appeared to be missing. The minaret of a mosque had collapsed.

“It’s a catastrophe,” said villager Salah Ancheu, 28. “We don’t know what the future holds. Aid is still insufficient.”

Residents swept debris from the main road into town and people cheered as trucks full of soldiers arrived. But they asked for more help.

“There are no ambulances, there are no police, at least right now,” Ancheu said, speaking of many parts of the region on Sunday morning.

Those left homeless — or fearing more aftershocks — slept outside on Saturday, on the streets of the old city of Marrakesh or under makeshift shelters in Atlas Mountain towns, such as now. Moulay Brahim. Both there and in Amizmiz, residents were most concerned about damage to hard-to-reach communities. The worst destruction was in rural communities that depend on unpaved roads that wind through mountainous terrain covered in fallen rocks.

Those areas were shaken again on Sunday by a magnitude 3.9 aftershock, according to the US Geological Survey. It was not immediately clear if it caused more damage or casualties, but it was likely strong enough to rattle nerves in areas where damage has left buildings unstable and residents feared aftershocks.

In a region where many build with mud bricks, Friday’s quake toppled buildings not strong enough to withstand such a powerful tremor, trapping people in the rubble and sending others fleeing in terror. A total of 2,122 people have been confirmed dead and at least 2,421 others were injured, 1,404 of them in critical condition, the Interior Ministry said.

Most of the dead – 1,351 – were in Al Haouz district in the High Atlas Mountains, the ministry said.

Flags were flown at half-mast 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 shelters to be sent to those who lost their homes.

He also called for mosques to offer prayers on Sunday for the victims, many of whom were buried on Saturday amid a frenzy of rescue efforts nearby.

Although it said for the first time on Sunday that it would accept aid from four countries, Morocco has not made an international appeal for help like Turkey did in the hours after a massive earthquake earlier this year, according to groups help

Aid offers dumped from around the world, and the UN said it had a team in Morocco coordinating international support. About 100 teams made up of a total of 3,500 rescuers are registered on a UN platform and are ready to deploy to Morocco when called upon, Rescuers Without Borders said. Germany had a team of more than 50 first responders waiting near Cologne-Bonn airport, but sent them home, the dpa news agency reported.

A Spanish search and rescue team arrived in Marrakesh and headed to the rural area of ​​Talat N’Yaaqoub, according to Spain’s Military Emergency Unit. Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said in a radio interview that Moroccan authorities asked for help. Another rescue team from Nice, France, was also on its way.

Czech Republic officials earlier said the country was sending about 70 members of a trained rescue team 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 equipment.

In France, which has strong ties to Morocco and said four of its citizens died in the quake, towns and cities have offered more than 2 million euros ($2.1 million) in aid. Popular artists are collecting donations.

The epicenter of Friday’s earthquake was near the town of Ighil in Al Haouz province, about 70 kilometers (44 miles) south of Marrakech. The region is known for the picturesque villages and valleys in the High Atlas Mountains.

Devastation gripped every town along the rugged, winding high-Atlas, with houses folded in on themselves and people weeping as children and helmeted police carried the dead through the streets.

“I was asleep when the earthquake hit. I couldn’t escape because the roof fell on me. I was trapped. My neighbors saved me who cleared the debris 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 scrambled to salvage anything from the damaged homes.

Khadija Fairouje’s face was swollen from crying as she joined relatives and neighbors carrying possessions through the cobbled streets. She had lost her daughter and three grandchildren aged 4 to 11 when their home collapsed while they were sleeping less than 48 hours earlier.

“There is nothing left. It all fell apart,” said her sister, Hafida Fairouje.

The Mohammed V Foundation for Solidarity was coordinating aid for about 15,000 families in Al Haouz province, including food, medical aid, emergency housing and blankets, state news agency MAP said, citing the head of the organization, Youssef Rabouli, after visiting the region.

Rescuers backed by soldiers and police searched collapsed houses in the remote town of Adassil, near the epicenter. Military vehicles brought bulldozers and other equipment to clear the roads, MAP reported. Ambulances took dozens of injured people from the village of Tikht, population about 800, to the Mohammed VI University Hospital in Marrakesh.

In Marrakech, large chunks of a crenellated roof were missing, and warped metal, crumbling 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 that people are dying in, especially at this time when they need help, any help.” She cited 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 a few seconds, the USGS said. A magnitude 4.9 aftershock struck 19 minutes later, he said. The collision of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates occurred at a relatively shallow depth, which makes an earthquake more dangerous.

It was the strongest earthquake to hit the North African country in more than 120 years, according to USGS records dating back to 1900, but it was not the deadliest. In 1960, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck near the city of Agadir, killing at least 12,000 people. This earthquake caused Morocco to change building regulations, but many buildings, especially rural houses, are not built to withstand such tremors.

In 2004, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake near the Mediterranean city of Al Hoceima left more than 600 dead.


Angela Charlton and Elaine Ganley in Paris, Brian Melley in London, Mark Carlson in Marrakech, Houda Benalla in Rabat, Morocco, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed.


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