AMIZMIZ, Morocco (AP) — People in Morocco slept on the streets of Marrakesh for a third straight night as soldiers and international aid teams in trucks and helicopters began pouring into remote mountain towns hit hardest by a historic earthquake.
The disaster killed more than 2,100 people – a toll expected to rise – and the United Nations estimated 300,000 people were affected by Friday night’s magnitude 6.8 quake.
Amid offers from several countries, including the United States and France, Moroccan officials said on Sunday that they would accept international aid from only four countries: Spain, Qatar, Britain and the United Arab Emirates.
“The Moroccan authorities have carefully assessed the needs on the ground, taking into account 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 the already grieving and shocked Moroccan population, other relief teams ready to deploy grew frustrated and waited for the government to officially request help.
“We know there is a lot of urgency to rescue people and dig under the remains of buildings,” said Arnaud Fraisse, founder of Rescuers Without Borders, whose team is stuck in Paris waiting for the green light. “People are dying under the rubble and there is nothing we can do to save them.”
Help arrived slowly in Amizmiz, where an entire section of the town 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 28-year-old villager Salah Ancheu. “We don’t know what the future looks like. The aid remains inadequate.”
Residents swept debris from the main road into the city and people cheered as trucks full of soldiers arrived. But they asked for more help.
“At least at the moment there are no ambulances and no police,” Ancheu said on Sunday morning about large parts of the region.
Those who were homeless – or fearful of more aftershocks – slept outside on Saturday, on the streets of the ancient city of Marrakech or under makeshift canopies in hard-hit Atlas Mountain towns such as Moulay Brahim. Both there and in Amizmiz, residents were most concerned about damage in hard-to-reach communities. The worst destruction occurred in rural communities that rely on dirt roads that wind through mountainous terrain covered in fallen rocks.
According to the US Geological Survey, these areas were again shaken by a magnitude 3.9 aftershock on Sunday. It was not immediately clear whether it caused more damage or casualties, but it was likely powerful enough to rattle nerves in areas where damage has left buildings unstable and residents feared aftershocks.
In a region where many build bricks of clay, Friday’s earthquake collapsed buildings that were not strong enough to withstand such a powerful quake, trapping people in the rubble and forcing others to flee in fear . A total of 2,122 people were confirmed dead and at least 2,421 others were injured – 1,404 of them critically, the Interior Ministry reported.
Most of the dead – 1,351 – were in Al Haouz district in the High Atlas, the ministry said.
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 demanded that mosques pray on Sunday for the victims, many of whom were buried nearby on Saturday during the hectic rescue work.
Despite saying for the first time on Sunday that it would accept aid from four countries, Morocco has not made an international appeal for help, as Turkey did in the hours after a massive quake earlier this year, according to aid groups.
Offers of help poured in from around the world, and the United Nations said it had a team in Morocco coordinating international support. About 100 teams with a total of 3,500 rescuers are registered with a UN platform and ready to deploy to Morocco upon request, Rescuers Without Borders said. Germany had kept 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 Marrakesh and headed to rural Talat N’Yaaqoub, Spain’s military emergency unit said. Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said in a radio interview that the Moroccan authorities had asked for help. Another rescue team from Nice, France, was also on the way.
Officials in the Czech Republic previously said the country had sent about 70 members of a rescue team trained in searching through debris after receiving an official request from the Moroccan government. Czech Defense Minister Jana Cernochova said three military aircraft were prepared to transport the team.
In France, which has many ties to Morocco and said four of its citizens died in the quake, cities and towns have offered more than two 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 Marrakesh. The region is known for its picturesque villages and valleys in the High Atlas.
The devastation gripped every town along the steep and winding switchbacks of the High Atlas Mountains, houses collapsed and people wept as boys and helmet-clad 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 away the rubble with their bare hands,” said Fatna Bechar in Moulay Brahim. “Now I live with them in their house because mine was completely destroyed.”
There was little time to mourn as survivors tried to salvage something from the damaged homes.
Khadija Fairouje’s face was swollen from tears as she joined relatives and neighbors dragging possessions through stone-strewn streets. She had lost her daughter and three grandchildren, ages 4 to 11, when their house collapsed while they were sleeping less than 48 hours earlier.
“There is nothing left. Everything fell,” said her sister Hafida Fairouje.
The Mohammed V Foundation for Solidarity is coordinating aid to around 15,000 families in Al Haouz province, including food, medical assistance, emergency shelter and blankets, state news agency MAP quoted the organization’s head, Youssef Rabouli, as saying after his visit to the region.
Rescue workers supported 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 roads, MAP reported. Ambulances brought dozens of injured people from the 800-inhabitant village of Tikht to the Mohammed VI University Hospital in Marrakesh.
In Marrakech, large chunks of a crenellated roof were missing, and a building cordoned off by police was left with only warped metal, crumbled concrete and dust.
Tourists and residents lined up to donate blood.
“I didn’t think twice about it,” Jalila Guerina told The Associated Press, “especially in the conditions in which people are dying, especially at this moment when they need help, any help.” She referred to 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. An aftershock measuring 4.9 magnitude occurred 19 minutes later, it said. The collision of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates occurred at relatively shallow depths, making an earthquake more dangerous.
According to USGS records dating back to 1900, it was the strongest earthquake to hit the North African country in over 120 years, 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 quake prompted Morocco to change building regulations, but many buildings, especially country houses, are not built to withstand such shaking.
In 2004, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake near the Mediterranean coastal town of Al Hoceima killed more than 600 people.
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