Villagers wept for lost relatives in the rubble of their homes on Monday as the death toll from Morocco’s deadliest earthquake in more than six decades rose to more than 2,800 and rescuers raced against time to find survivors. Search teams from Spain, Britain and Qatar joined Morocco’s rescue efforts after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck the High Atlas Mountains late on Friday, with an epicenter 72 km (45 miles) southwest of Marrakech.
State television said the death toll had risen to 2,862 and 2,562 injured. Rescuers said the traditional adobe houses ubiquitous in the region reduced the chances of finding survivors because they had collapsed.
Among the dead was 7-year-old Suleiman Aytnasr, whose mother carried him to his bedroom after he fell asleep in the living room of their home in the village of Talat N’Yaaqoub, one of the worst-hit areas. The beginning of the new school year was about to begin.
Morocco earthquake impact
“When she came back, there was an earthquake and the ceiling was destroyed and fell on him,” said Suleiman’s father, Brahim Aytnasr, whose eyes were red from crying. He spent Monday trying to salvage things from the wreckage of his home.
In the village of Tagadirte, where few buildings remained standing, 66-year-old Mohamed Ouchen described how residents pulled 25 people alive from the rubble immediately after the earthquake.
One of those saved was his own sister.
“We had our hands full with the rescue because we had no tools, we used our hands,” he said. “Her head was visible and we were still digging by hand.
Footage from the remote village of Imi N’Tala, shot by Spanish rescuer Antonio Nogales of the aid group Bomberos Unidos Sin Fronteras (United Firefighters Without Borders), showed men and dogs climbing steep slopes covered in rubble.
“The level of destruction is…absolute,” Nogales said, struggling to find the right word to describe what he saw. “Not a single house was left standing.
Despite the extent of the damage, he said rescuers, who were searching with dogs, still hoped to find survivors.
“I’m sure there will be some rescue in the next few days, we think there may still be people in the collapsed structures, there may have been air pockets, and as I say, we never give up hope,” he said. he said.
After an initial response that some survivors described as too slow, search and rescue efforts appeared to pick up on Monday, with tent camps emerging in some places as people prepared for a fourth night outside.
A video shot by Moroccan outlet 2M showed a military helicopter flying over the area near the epicenter, dropping bags of essential supplies to isolated families.
Since much of the earthquake is in hard-to-reach areas, authorities have not released any estimates of the number of missing.
The damage done to Morocco’s cultural heritage is gradually coming to light. Buildings in the old city of Marrakech, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, were damaged. The earthquake also caused extensive damage to the historically significant 12th-century Tinmel Mosque.
Residents in Tinmel, a remote village near the epicenter where 15 people were killed, said they were sharing food, water and medicine but desperately needed tents and blankets to shelter from the cold mountain nights.
It was the deadliest earthquake to hit the North African country since 1960, when the tremor was estimated to have killed at least 12,000 people, and the strongest since 1900, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
In a televised statement on Sunday, government spokesman Mustapha Baytas defended the government’s response, saying all efforts had been made on the ground.
The army said it was boosting search and rescue teams, providing drinking water and distributing food, tents and blankets.
The main road linking the High Atlas Mountains to Marrakesh was blocked on Monday evening as heavy vehicles and volunteers carrying relief supplies headed to some of the worst-affected communities in remote areas of the mountains.
Moroccan volunteers and civilians, with the help of some foreigners, helped direct traffic and clear the road of stone debris.
Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch told local media that the government would compensate the victims, but gave few details.
The Moroccan government wants to go ahead with the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank scheduled for next month in Marrakesh, two sources familiar with the planning said.
Morocco accepted offers of help from Spain and Britain, which sent search and rescue specialists with sniffer dogs, and the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. State television said the government may later accept offers of aid from other countries.