Aid pledges surge as Morocco earthquake death toll passes 2,000

Emergency services struggling to reach hardest-hit villages due to fallen boulders blocking mountain roads

A man carries a cat through the rubble of a partially collapsed mosque in Marrakesh on Saturday. Getty Images
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Families in Marrakesh huddled outdoors in the early hours of Sunday, having spent a second night on the streets after Morocco's deadliest earthquake in more than half a century left many fearing their homes were no longer safe to return to.

On Sunday morning, many people were still camped out in parks and car parks, fearing aftershocks may bring damaged buildings down on top of them in the city around 70 kilometres north-east of the epicentre.

They worried that the quake that has killed more than 2,000 people may have damaged their homes, or that an aftershock could cause further destruction in the coming hours.

The death toll is expected to rise considerably because many of the casualties – by one estimate almost 1,500 – are in a critical condition, while emergency services are struggling to reach some of the remote mountainous villages which are the worst affected. Many mountain roads are blocked by fallen boulders and the army has been deployed to assist emergency services.

Tourists who left their hotels to escape the quake were sleeping on floors at Marrakesh Menara Airport.

“It only lasted for few seconds but it’s an experience you can never forget,” Marrakesh resident Mohssen Al Farqi told The National.

“Even though it’s safer now, we can still feel the ground moving,” he said.

“People are feeling very emotional. What happened is not easy and we did not expect the fatalities to be this high,” Abdelouahed, 28, said.

Moment Moroccan earthquake rescuers rejoice after finding survivor

Moment Moroccan earthquake rescuers rejoice after finding survivor

South of Marrakech, the vast majority of the casualties are near the epicentre in Al Haouz province, where one village, Tafeghaghte, is said to have been completely destroyed.

Tafeghaghte is one of scores of affected villages where clay brick houses have easily crumbled. In Moulay Brahim, home to 3,000 people, rescue workers on Monday were still digging through rubble searching for survivors.

Experts from the US Geological Survey said on Saturday the damage could erase around two per cent of the country's GDP.

Another 3.9-magnitude aftershock hit the country on Sunday, the Survey said.

It wasn't immediately clear if the tremor caused more damage or casualties, but it was likely strong enough to rattle nerves in areas where damage has left buildings unstable and people have spoken of their fears of aftershocks.

An estimated 300,000 were affected by Friday night's earthquake, the World Health Organisation has said.

King Mohammed VI's instructions for rescue efforts included the government providing shelter to people who have been left homeless, and without basic needs.

Foreign aid has also been rushed into the country, with Algeria opening its airspace for the first time in two years, to facilitate flights carrying assistance. France, the US, Spain, Britain and Germany said on Saturday that they were preparing emergency assistance.

In the region, Jordan said on Sunday that it too would be sending aid flights, while the UAE said it would deliver aid through a number of channels, including an air corridor, President Sheikh Mohamed said. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said UAE emergency services would also lend support.

Israel, meanwhile, offered assistance, saying nearly 500 of its citizens were in Morocco at the time of the earthquake. Turkey, which suffered an earthquake in February that killed over 50,000 people, said its emergency services were ready to assist the recovery effort.

Tunisia and Kuwait have also offered assistance.

Koutoubia Mosque damage

Unesco officials have expressed concerns over Marrakesh's historic buildings, in a city that is home to numerous Unesco World Heritage Sites.

Eric Falt, Unesco's Maghreb Regional Director, conducted a two-hour assessment of the city’s medina and shared his observations.

“After a disaster like this, the most important thing is to preserve human lives,” Mr Falt said.

“But it is also necessary to immediately plan for the second phase, which will include the reconstruction of schools and cultural assets affected by the earthquake.”

The minaret at Koutoubia Mosque, a Unesco heritage site, has suffered substantial cracks. The minaret of the Kharbouch Mosque on Jemaa El Fna square was almost completely destroyed.

Absentee funeral prayers, held for Muslims who pass away in a place where there is nobody to pray for them, will be held on Sunday for the victims of the Saturday's earthquake, following instructions by Morocco's King Mohammed VI.

The dhuhr prayers, or prayers after noon, would represent a moment of national mourning, the King said in a post on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Since Friday's quake, Morocco's worst since 1960, Mouhamad Ayat Elhaj, 51, has slept on the streets with his family nearby in the city's historic old town after finding signs of damage to his home, including cracks in the walls.

“I cannot sleep there. I am asking the authorities to help me and bring in an expert to assess whether it is possible for me to return to the house or not. If there is a risk, I will not return to the house,” he told Reuters.

Across parts of Morocco, people spent the night outdoors on Friday after the earthquake hit the country. By Saturday, the number of people killed had risen to 2,012 and another 2,059 were injured, according to the Ministry of Interior.

Parts of Marrakesh’s old city, a popular attraction for domestic and foreign tourists, were damaged in the earthquake. On Saturday, people were walking through the ancient city taking photos of the damage, while others gathered to sleep in the main square.

Noureddine Lahbabi, a retired 68-year-old with four children, said that the damage caused to people’s homes was distressing as he, too, prepared to sleep outside for a second night.

“It’s a painful experience. When this happens to your brother or sister, it’s really painful,” he said.

Mohamed Aithadi, a Moroccan-American, was surveying the damage to a mosque near his mother's home in the old city on Saturday. He said he had been in the main square when the earthquake struck, and on Saturday urged Moroccans to take care of those most vulnerable.

“I am very sure that our people, our Moroccan people and our Moroccan community can get together and get through this safely and peacefully,” he said.

Away from the old city, families were sleeping in open spaces and along roads. Eleven-year-old Jowra, speaking alongside her father, said she felt uneasy at having to sleep near strangers.

The disaster is one of the worst to hit Morocco in modern times.

In 1960, a magnitude-5.8 tremor struck near the city of Agadir and caused thousands of deaths. That quake prompted changes in construction rules in Morocco, but many buildings, especially rural homes, are not built to withstand such tremors.

In 2004, a magnitude-6.4 earthquake near the Mediterranean coastal city of Al Hoceima left more than 600 dead.

Friday's quake was felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria, according to the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere and Algeria's Civil Defense agency, which oversees emergency response.

Updated: September 11, 2023, 4:36 AM