Morocco earthquake survivors tell of horror, grief and narrow escapes

As the death toll nears 2,700, hundreds of injured people are still in hospital and face uncertain futures

A child plays next to relief tents near a military field hospital in the village of Asni, in the Atlas Mountains of central Morocco. AFP
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Khadija Baouzi had no time to run outside when the massive earthquake hit last Friday, levelling the buildings in her town, including her home, within seconds.

Her town of Ijjoukak, near Marrakesh, became a sea of destruction, with structures collapsing on to residents.

Ms Baouzi, who was severely injured in the earthquake, is being treated at King Mohamed VI University Hospital in Marrakesh.

In front of the hospital, her niece, Mouna, told The National about her aunt’s plight and that of others in the town.

“Her husband died on the spot while my aunt was crushed, both her arm and leg were crushed … may God have mercy on her,” Mouna said as she sat on the ground with her daughter, near the main emergency entrance of the hospital.

“Only a few people remain alive in that village – my aunt’s husband, his sister and her daughters were killed that night. They [the sister and daughters] were visiting from Casablanca and they were going to leave the next morning."

Mouna also became homeless when her house in the old Marrakesh Medina trembled and cracked due to the earthquake.

Now she has to decide whether she will spend the night at the hospital waiting for news about her aunt or return to the area near her home to sleep for a few hours in an alley.

Escaping the rubble

Many others are in the same bleak situation, having not only lost loved ones but also their homes.

Hassine Boukhris, from Douar Tinezert village in Al Haouz district, one of the villages closest to the epicentre of the earthquake, is now living in front of the Marrakesh University Hospital.

His head is bandaged, his shirt stained with his blood as well as dust from his ruined home.

“Everything fell and was flattened, nothing was standing any more,” Mr Boukhris told The National.

He alone was able to climb out of the rubble of his house. His wife, her brother and his family all died in the disaster.

After freeing himself, Mr Boukhris pulled out his two children and tried to save others, but he was only able to get four people out.

“I kept digging a tunnel for almost one hour. I don’t know what kind of force God gave me in those moments but I kept fighting to save my kids,” Mr Boukhris said.

Some members of his family are in hospital, clinging to life after sustaining grave injuries.

“I have nothing any more, all of my belongings are under the rubble … all I have now is this bloody shirt I’m wearing,” Mr Boukhris said.

He now sleeps on the side of the car park at the hospital, alongside many other homeless survivors, spending the days under the shade of a few trees.

Trying to heal wounds

Many more people remain under the rubble as rescue teams continue to hold on to the hope that some are still alive. Some families, however, are only waiting to retrieve the bodies of those they have lost.

“I hope they can reach the people that are still buried in dirt till this hour, lots of them are scared, hungry and bearing the cold that even us here cannot handle,” Mouna said.

“Imagine how they feel when no one is turning to them.”

As the humanitarian impact of the crisis fully emerges, Moroccans did not hesitate to come together and help those affected.

Ghadir, 41, came to Marrakesh from Jdida, about 200km away.

She told The National she had left her children behind, jumping in a car with her brother to bring aid to people who had lost everything in the earthquake.

“This the least we can do. I spent the night in my car in the mountains yesterday and today I came to this hospital as I knew that many people are camping out here,” she said.

“I went crying and came back hopeful. We can see the cars delivering aid going one after another on our way to Taroudant [another damaged town], the place we were trying to reach.”

Despite having to sleep in her vehicle for the past few days, Ghadir said that like many others, she would work to fulfil what she saw as her civic duty.

She is also hopeful that more people will start thinking about ways to help survivors rebuild their lives.

“I really hope that we all come together and think about rebuilding their [survivors'] homes,” she said. “The cold weather is nearing and we would not want to see them struggle.”

Updated: September 12, 2023, 7:01 AM