Moroccans rush to Marrakesh to help victims of earthquake

The city is the largest in the region that was hit by a 6.8 magnitude tremor that claimed more than 1,000 lives

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Hundreds of Moroccans have flocked to Mohammed VI University Hospital in Marrakesh since the early hours of Saturday to help people being brought in with injuries suffered in the 6.8 magnitude earthquake that struck just 70 kilometres south-west of the city late on Friday.

The tremor was felt across the country and sent people fleeing outdoors, where many remained until morning for fear of aftershocks before returning to their homes in the morning.

Ambulance sirens were heard through the night as paramedics raced through Marrakesh, carrying the injured to hospital.

Malika Buqush, a woman in her 60s, sat in one of the ambulances outside the hospital with a deep wound on her head and an injury to her arm that left it immobile. As doctors and nurses hurried back and forth, tending to her as well as dozens of other injured people being brought in, Ms Buqush was trying to grasp that she had just lost her husband and one of her granddaughters to the earthquake.

“One second I was watching TV, and the next I was under rubble and ruins,” she said. “The earthquake took away what is most valuable.”

She was brought in from the village of Tafgakt, in one of the worst-affected regions about 100km south of Marrakesh.

“The devastation is like nothing I’ve seen before,” said Rachid Shein, the owner and driver of the ambulance that brought Ms Buqush to Marrakesh.

Mr Shein said that by 10am he had already made two trips to the hospital, carrying four people at a time.

It’s my duty. No one would stand idle while their kinsmen suffered
Rachid Shein, ambulance owner

“It’s my duty. No one would stand idle while their kinsmen suffered,” he said.

King Mohammed VI ordered the armed forces to join the rescue effort as the death tolls announced by the interior ministry continued to rise, from about 300 initially to more than 1,000 by early afternoon, including at least 13 deaths in Marrakesh.

Buildings across Marrakesh sustained cracks, while some older buildings collapsed altogether, especially in the historic district of the city.

Mr Rachid, who lives in a newly built house in the Cidi Yousif Bin Ali neighbourhood, said his home had suffered structural damage.

“We rushed out of the house and we haven’t gone back in since. We’re not sure how safe it is,” he said.

The death toll was expected to rise further as the mountainous region where the earthquake struck made it difficult for medics and volunteers to reach victims. The tremor caused some roads to collapse, while others were blocked by fallen rocks.

Khaled Buya, 22, barely made it to the hospital from his home in Ourika, a village about 33km south of Marrakesh. With injuries to his head and arm, he sat on the pavement outside after receiving first aid, watching as ambulances continued to arrive.

“It was a real challenge making it here,” said his brother, Hassan.

“The main road leading to Marrakesh is blocked. Huge boulders cut the way. We got here via a side road,” he said as he helped his brother to stand up.

“The whole village is in ruins. All the houses are destroyed. Dozens are injured, and we know of only one death. I’m sure there’s many more,” he said.

Social media records the moment the Morocco quake hit

Social media records the moment the Morocco quake hit

Fareed Dardour, from the village of Tassoultante, 11km south of Marrakesh, had come to the city with an injured relative.

He recalled the local imam’s booming voice through the mosque’s loudspeaker, urging the villagers to go out into the streets immediately for their safety.

“It was horrifying. We all felt the earth shake beneath our feet and the walls tremble. None of us lived through something like this before,” Mr Dardour said.

“Thankfully, the village is safe. No house was harmed and no one was hurt. But it was a harrowing night.”

Throughout Saturday, Moroccans from across the kingdom continued to stream into Marrakesh, the biggest city in the quake-affected area, to assist in the rescue efforts.

Abdelkareem, another ambulance owner, said he had driven 241km from Casablanca.

“This is a catastrophe and there is a true need for help, which is why I’m here,” he said as he scanned the hospital’s hectic surroundings to see where he could lend a hand.

This article was published in collaboration with Egab

Updated: September 10, 2023, 3:13 AM