Foreign rescuers join Morocco quake race against time

Foreign rescuers join Morocco quake race against time

TALAT NYACOUB: Moroccan rescuers supported by foreign teams on Monday faced an intensifying race against time to dig out any survivors from the rubble of mountain villages after the country’s strongest-ever earthquake.

The 6.8-magnitude quake struck the Atlas mountains late on Friday southwest of the tourist centre of Marrakesh. It killed at least 2,862 people and injured over 2,562 others, according to the latest official toll.

In the disaster-stricken community of Talat Nyacoub, 12 ambulances and several dozen 4X4s from the army and police were deployed while around 100 Moroccan rescuers were searching for signs of life amid the collapsed buildings.

Nearby, a Spanish team of 30 firefighters, a doctor, a nurse, and two technicians coordinating with Moroccan authorities before starting to dig, as a helicopter flew overhead.

Death toll rises to 2,862; France pledges 5m euros for aid efforts

“The big difficulty is in zones remote and difficult to access, like here, but the injured are choppered out,” Annika Coll, who heads the Spanish team, said.

About 70 kilometres north, another Spanish team from the Military Emergencies Unit (UME) had set up camp since Sunday night on the edge of Amizmiz village.

Rabat on Sunday announced it had accepted offers to send search and rescue teams from Britain, Qatar, and the UAE, as well as Spain.

“The UK is deploying a team of search and rescue specialists, including 60 people, four search dogs and rescue equipment, as well as a medical assessment team,” the British Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office said in a statement late on Sunday.

The French government said on Monday it had pledged five million euros ($5.4 million) to aid organisations on site in Morocco. The money will go to aid organisations already active in the disaster zone, Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told the BFM broadcaster.

Colonna brushed off questions about the absence of any official Moroccan request for aid from France. Morocco is “sovereign” and “alone entitled to determine what its needs are”, she said.

‘Completely lost’

Moroccan troops handed out hundreds of blankets to residents who had lost their homes.

“My mother died, her house is ruined. My place in Amizmiz no longer exists so we sleep outside in tents with my two children aged four months and six years,” said Hafid Ait Lahcen, 32, a construction worker.

“No one from the authorities has offered us accommodation. We are completely lost.”

‘The village is dead’

The earthquake wiped out entire villages in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, where civilian rescuers and members of Morocco’s armed forces have searched for survivors and the bodies of the dead. Many houses in remote mountain villages were built from mud bricks.

While the foreign teams begin to arrive, Moroccan authorities have erected emergency shelters. Bright yellow tents were visible along the road into Tikht, a village which has effectively ceased to exist.

Members of the government’s civil protection service carried camp beds from a military-type truck toward the tents.

Previously home to at least 100 families, Tikht has been reduced to a tangle of timber, chunks of masonry as well as broken plates, shoes and the occasional intricately patterned rug.

“Life is finished here,” said Mohssin Aksum, 33, who had family in the settlement. “The village is dead.”

Citizens reported to hospitals in Marrakesh and elsewhere to donate blood for the injured. Among the donors were members of Morocco’s national football team and renowned French-Moroccan comic Jamel Debbouze.

The quake was the deadliest in Morocco since a 1960 earthquake destroyed Agadir, killing 12,000-15,000 people.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2023


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