Morocco quake: Survivors face fourth night outdoors as death toll rises


Morocco is still reeling from the aftermath of the country’s biggest earthquake in over a century, which struck late on Friday in the High Atlas Mountains, with the epicentre 72 km (45 miles) southwest of Marrakech. The 6.8 magnitude quake flattened the traditional mud brick houses that are common in the region, leaving thousands of people homeless and vulnerable to the cold nights. State TV reported on Monday that the death toll had risen to 2,862, with 2,562 people injured. With much of the quake zone in hard-to-reach areas, authorities have not issued any estimates for the number of missing.

Search teams from Spain, Britain and Qatar have joined Moroccan efforts to find survivors, using dogs and drones to scour the rubble. However, the rescue operations have been hampered by the lack of roads, electricity and communication networks in some of the worst-hit areas. Some villagers said they had received little or no assistance from the authorities, and had to rely on their own resources to cope with the disaster.

Morocco quake: Survivors face fourth night outdoors as death toll rises
Morocco quake: Survivors face fourth night outdoors as death toll rises

Villagers weep for lost relatives

In many villages, residents have been camping outside for a fourth night on Monday, fearing aftershocks and hoping for a miracle. Some have lost their entire families, while others have been digging through the debris with their bare hands to find their loved ones. In Tinmel, almost every house was pulverised and the entire community has been left homeless. The stench of death from dozens of animals buried under the rubble wafts through parts of the village.

Mouhamad Elhasan, 59, said he had been eating dinner with his family when the earthquake struck. His 31-year-old son fled outside and was hit as their neighbour’s roof collapsed, trapping him under the rubble. Elhasan said he searched for his son as he cried for help. But eventually the cries stopped, and by the time he reached his son he was dead. Elhasan and his wife and daughter remained inside their home and survived. “If he had stayed inside the house he would have been ok,” Elhasan said.

Rescuers still hopeful of finding survivors

Despite the scale of the damage, rescuers have not given up hope of finding survivors. In Tikekhte, where few buildings have been left standing, 66-year-old Mohamed Ouchen described how residents rescued 25 people – one of whom was his sister. “We were busy rescuing. Because we didn’t have tools, we used our hands,” he said. “Her head was visible and we kept digging by hand.”

Footage from the remote village of Imi N’Tala, filmed by Spanish rescuer Antonio Nogales of the aid group Bomberos Unidos Sin Fronteras (United Firefighters Without Borders), showed men and dogs clambering over steep slopes covered in rubble. “The level of destruction is … absolute,” said Nogales, struggling to find the right word to describe what he was seeing. “Not a single house has stayed upright.” However, he said rescuers searching with dogs still hoped to find survivors. “I am sure that in the coming days there will be some rescues, we think that there may still be people in the collapsed structures, that there may have been pockets of air, and as I say, we never give up hope,” he said.

Damage to heritage sites

The earthquake has also caused significant damage to some of Morocco’s historical and cultural heritage sites, especially in the ancient city of Marrakech. The Koutoubia Mosque, which dates back to the 12th century and is considered a symbol of the city, suffered cracks in its minaret and walls. The Saadian Tombs, a royal necropolis from the 16th century, were also affected by the quake. The Ministry of Culture said it was assessing the extent of the damage and would take measures to restore and protect the monuments.

The earthquake has also raised questions about the quality and safety of Morocco’s building standards, especially in rural areas where many houses are made of mud and straw. The government has announced a plan to provide financial aid and housing solutions for the victims, as well as to reinforce existing buildings and construct new ones that can withstand earthquakes.


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