Rescuers in Morocco raced to reach remote areas in the mountains outside Marrakesh on Sunday after the worst earthquake to hit the area in a century flattened homes across central and southern parts of the country, killing more than 2,000 people.
The extent of the damage and number of casualties after the magnitude-6.8 earthquake late Friday night remained unclear because the hardest-hit communities were in the High Atlas Mountains, where the few roads appeared to be blocked by debris, and where phone service and electricity had been knocked out. State media showed footage of helicopters airlifting aid to remote areas.
Many homes in that area are made of mud bricks, a traditional construction
method that is highly vulnerable to earthquakes and heavy rains.
In Marrakesh, the largest city in southern Morocco, residents confronted piles of rubble from buildings that had crumbled around them. In the rural areas outside the city, Moroccans climbed through the canyons between collapsed homes to retrieve bodies. And in some remote areas, residents sifted through mountains of debris with their bare hands in search of survivors.
People slept on grassy medians, roundabouts and by the sides of roads into Marrakesh early on Sunday, many of them fearing aftershocks. The United States Geological Survey later said that a 3.9-magnitude earthquake, almost certainly an aftershock, struck the area just before 9am.
At least 2,122 people were killed in the quake, the Moroccan interior ministry said late on Saturday, and more than 2,000 were injured.
Spain said it was sending search and rescue teams to Morocco, and Qatari state media reported that Qatar would deploy specialised vehicles and equipment. But some countries were still waiting for Morocco to formally request help. “The moment, the second they ask, we will deploy,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said.
The Moroccan authorities announced three days of national mourning. The Moroccan Army said the air force was evacuating casualties from the hardest hit region of Haouz to a military hospital in Marrakesh. The king’s office said that after a crisis meeting with officials in Rabat, the capital, he had ordered the government to rapidly provide shelter and rebuild houses for those in distress, “particularly orphans and the vulnerable”.
The United Nations Office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs said in a statement that more than 300,000 civilians in Marrakesh and its outskirts had been affected by the earthquake.
“Many families are trapped under the rubble of their homes, and damage to parts of Marrakesh’s Medina, a Unesco World Heritage Site, have also been reported,” the statement said.
First came the news, then shock and then a scream. In the small town of Amizmiz in southern Morocco on Sunday, a woman let out a piercing cry as she absorbed the information that her two brothers had been killed in the devastating earthquake.
Hardest hit was the province of Al Haouz, which is home to Amizmiz, where a small crowd was growing to comfort the crying woman.
Lacher Anflouss, 37, the woman’s nephew, said that his aunt had grown up with her brothers in a village higher on the nearby Atlas Mountains. She had moved away when she married, but her brothers had stayed.
In the quake’s immediate aftermath cellphone service was down, making it difficult for people to get immediate news of loved ones, Anflouss said. Once his aunt heard what had happened to her brothers, he said, she had attempted to get as close as possible to their town.
“A lot of people are reacting quietly at first because they still haven’t processed it,” said Anflouss, adding, in an explanation of her scream: “And then when they finally process it…”
His aunt, whom he did not name, was led away from a small crowd that had gathered by another woman who put her arm around her and rubbed her back.
New York Times News Service