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Frustration mounts with Morocco earthquake aid yet to reach some survivors; death toll tops 2,900

Published 09/11/2023, 07:51 PM
Updated 09/12/2023, 04:02 PM
© Reuters. Mohamed Ouchen, 66, a survivor, who helped to pull his sister and her husband with their children from rubble, looks at his destroyed house, in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, in Tikekhte, near Adassil, Morocco, September 11, 2023. REUTERS/Nacho Doc

By Alexander Cornwell, Jihed Abidellaoui and Ahmed Eljechtimi

TALAT N'YAAQOUB, Morocco (Reuters) - Many survivors of Morocco's earthquake struggled in makeshift shelters on Tuesday after a fourth night in the open, while villagers in devastated mountain areas voiced frustration at having received no help from the authorities.

The death toll from the 6.8 magnitude quake that struck in the High Atlas (NYSE:ATCO) Mountains late on Friday evening rose to 2,901, while the number of people injured more than doubled to 5,530, state television reported.

It was the North African country's deadliest earthquake since 1960 and its most powerful in more than a century.

Rescuers from Spain, Britain and Qatar were helping Morocco's search teams, while Italy, Belgium, France and Germany said their offers of assistance had yet to be approved.

The situation was most desperate for people in remote areas cut off by landslides triggered by the earthquake that blocked access roads, while in accessible locations relief efforts were stepping up with tent camps and distribution of food and water.

Mehdi Ait Bouyali, 24, was camping along the Tizi n'Test road, which connects remote valleys to the historic city of Marrakech, with a few other survivors who had also fled their destroyed villages. He said the group had received food and blankets from people driving by but nothing from the state.

"The villages of the valley have been forgotten. We need any kind of help. We need tents," he said, criticising the government's relief efforts.

In his first televised appearance since the earthquake struck, King Mohammed VI visited Marrakech - 72 km (45 miles) from the tremor's epicentre - to meet injured people at a hospital, where the state news agency said he donated blood.

State media said on Saturday he chaired a meeting assigning aid funds, but he has made no public address about the disaster.

FADING HOPES OF FINDING SURVIVORS

Hamid Ait Bouyali, 40, was also camping on the roadside.

"The authorities are focusing on the bigger communities and not the remote villages that are worst affected," he said. "There are some villages that still have the dead buried under the rubble."

Hopes of finding survivors were fading, not least because many traditional mud brick houses that are common in the High Atlas crumbled to earthen rubble without leaving air pockets.

Many villagers have had no power or telephone network since the earthquake struck and have had to rescue loved ones and pull out dead bodies buried under their crushed homes without any assistance.

Ordinary citizens were also helping, like Brahim Daldali, 36, from Marrakech, who was using a motorcycle to distribute food, water, clothes and blankets donated by friends and strangers.

"They have nothing and the people are starving," he said.

Residents of one village, Kettou, demolished by the quake luckily all survived thanks to a wedding celebration for which they had left their stone and mud-brick homes to enjoy traditional music in an outdoor courtyard.

SOME AID OFFERED BUT NOT TAKEN

In Amizmiz, a large village at the foot of the mountains that has turned into an aid hub, some people made homeless by the quake had been provided with yellow tents by the authorities, but others were still sheltering under blankets.

"I am so scared. What will we do if it rains?" said Noureddine Bo Ikerouane, a carpenter, who was camping with his wife, mother-in-law and two sons, one of whom is autistic, in an improvised tent fashioned from blankets.

In Marrakech, some historic buildings in the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and major tourist destination, were damaged.

More modern districts of Marrakech escaped largely unscathed, including a site near the airport earmarked for IMF and World Bank meetings due to be held next month.

More than 10,000 people were expected at the meetings, which the government wants to go ahead, sources said.

Morocco has accepted offers of aid from Spain, Britain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, but has not taken up offers of help from Italy, Belgium, France and Germany.

Germany said on Monday it did not think the decision was political, but Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Taji told radio station Rtl on Tuesday that Morocco had chosen to receive aid only from countries with which it had close relations.

French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the Moroccan public in a video message on Tuesday, saying Paris was ready to provide direct humanitarian aid if King Mohammed accepted France's offer.

"I wanted to address Moroccans directly to tell you that France was devastated ... by this terrible earthquake," Macron said. "We will be at your side."

Paris and Rabat have had strained relations in recent years - notably over the disputed territory of Western Sahara, which Morocco wants France to recognise as Moroccan. Morocco has not had an envoy in Paris since January.

Others voiced frustration at not being allowed in to help.

© Reuters. Rescue workers carry a body recovered from under the rubble in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Talat N'Yaaqoub, in Morocco September 12, 2023. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Arnaud Fraisse of Secouristes Sans Frontieres (Rescuers Without Borders), a French NGO, said it had offered the Moroccan embassy in Paris a team of nine who were ready to go but no response had come from Rabat.

"Now, four days later, it is too late to leave because we are here to work urgently, to save people under the rubble, not to discover corpses," he said. "This breaks our hearts."

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