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Morocco mourns quake victims as death toll surges past 2,000

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Tafeghaghte, Morocco—Moroccans on Sunday mourned the victims of a devastating earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people as rescue teams raced to find survivors trapped under the rubble of flattened villages.

The strongest-ever quake recorded in the country has killed at least 2,012 people and injured over 2,059, many of them seriously, according to the latest official figures.

Friday’s 6.8-magnitude quake struck 72 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of the tourist hub of Marrakesh, wiping out entire villages in rural areas.

“I’ve lost everything,” said Lahcen, a resident of the mountain village of Moulay Brahim, whose wife and four children were killed.

Rescue workers recovered the bodies of Lahcen’s three daughters from the rubble of what was once their home, but had not yet found the remains of his wife and son.

“I can’t do anything about it now, I just want to get away from the world and mourn,” he said.

Troops and emergency services have scrambled to reach remote mountain villages where victims are still feared trapped.

Al-Haouz province, where the epicenter was located, suffered the most deaths with 1,293, followed by the province of Taroudant where 452 lives were lost, authorities reported.

‘Everyone lost family’

Bouchra, another resident of Moulay Brahim, dried her tears with her scarf as she watched men dig graves for the victims.

“My cousin’s grandchildren are dead,” she said.

“I saw the devastation of the earthquake live and I’m still shaking. It’s like a ball of fire that swallowed up everything in its path.

“Everyone here has lost family, whether in our village or elsewhere in the region,” she added.

Many residents of the usually bustling tourist hotspot of Marrakesh spent a second night sleeping out on the streets, huddled together under blankets and among bags filled with their belongings.

Fatema Satir, a Marrakesh resident, said many were sleeping in the street for fear of their houses collapsing.

“Look where all these people are sleeping,” said Satir. “There is no help for us. Our houses have been cracked, others destroyed – like my daughter’s house which was wiped out. We are in a chaotic state.”

In the city’s historic Jemaa el-Fna square, about 20 people were huddled on the ground, wrapped in blankets. Others were staying on the lawn of the nearby town hall, with its 12th century ramparts partially collapsed.

“We spent the night outside the old town, in a safe place,” said Maria, a Spanish tourist.

DESTRUCTION EVERYWHERE. A man carries a boy as he and another child walk past destroyed houses after an earthquake in the mountain village of Tafeghaghte, southwest of Marrakesh, on September 9, 2023. Moroccans on Sunday mourned the victims of the devastating earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people. AFP

Authorities declared three days of national mourning while several countries including France, Israel, Italy, Spain and the United States, have offered aid.

US Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer on Sunday said Washington was “ready to provide significant assistance.”

“We’ve got search and rescue teams ready to deploy… We are also ready to release funds at the right time,” he told journalists. “The United States will be with them at every step of the way when they are ready to avail themselves of what we have to offer.”

Spain meanwhile said it would send search and rescue teams and other aid after it received a formal request for help from Rabat.

Algeria, which has long had rocky relations with neighboring Morocco, opened its airspace, which had been closed for two years, to flights carrying humanitarian aid and evacuating the injured.

‘Under the debris’

The Red Cross warned that it could take years to repair the damage.

“It won’t be a matter of a week or two… We are counting on a response that will take months, if not years,” Hossam Elsharkawi, its Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement.

The village of Tafeghaghte, 60 kilometers southwest of Marrakesh, was almost entirely destroyed by the quake, an AFP team reported, with very few buildings still standing.

“Three of my grandchildren and their mother are dead,” said 72-year-old Omar Benhanna. “They’re still under the debris. It wasn’t so long ago that we were playing together.”

Residents buried around 70 victims in the nearby cemetery on Saturday, cries and screams punctuating the funeral rites.

In the evening, television channels broadcast aerial images showing entire villages of clay houses in the Al-Haouz region completely destroyed.

“The public authorities are still mobilized to speed up rescue operations and evacuate the injured,” the interior ministry said Saturday evening.

The tremor was also felt in the coastal cities of Rabat, Casablanca, Agadir and Essaouira, where many panicked residents rushed onto the streets in the middle of the night.

The earthquake was the deadliest in Morocco since a 1960 quake that destroyed Agadir and in which more than 12,000 people died. AFP

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