By Gauri Patel
A devastating earthquake recently struck Morocco, killing at least 2,900 people and leaving more than 5,600 injured. With a magnitude of 6.8, this was the strongest earthquake to hit the nation’s center in more than a century, according to CNN.
The epicenter was in the High Atlas mountain range, located about 45 miles southwest of the city of Marrakech in the province of Al-Haouz. Nearly 1,500 people died in this province, which was heavily impacted by the earthquake. Many parts of the picturesque region, made up of gorges, lakes and red-rock mountains, have been reduced to rubble.
According to eyewitnesses, towns and villages in the foothills of the mountains were badly damaged, and some were completely destroyed, such as the village of Asni. A resident, Fatima, told CNN that help is yet to arrive in the isolated village.
“There is no one here to help pull the dead from under the destruction…the village is in very bad condition,” she said. “There is destruction everywhere.”
The earthquake severely damaged many historic sites in Marrakech and the surrounding area, according to AP News. One of the city’s most prominent and recognizable mosques, the Koutoubia Mosque, was damaged. The building has stood since the 12th century, and its iconic minaret rises more than 250 feet high, visible from almost any point in Marrakesh. The Timmel Mosque, located in the High Atlas mountains, has been almost completely destroyed, just seven months after the initiation of a restoration project.
Mustapha Louaanabi described the moment the earthquake struck, saying the noise was so loud that it felt as if there were “a train was passing right in the middle of the living room.” He and his family stayed outside for the rest of the night but could not sleep as the aftershocks continued until 8 a.m. The aftershocks could last for up to a week before seismic activity returns to normal.
Many survivors remain under the rubble of the fallen homes and buildings, where authorities have yet to arrive. Villages located in the foothills of the mountains that were hit the hardest were not easily accessible by rescue teams due to roads being damaged or blocked by debris, a Moroccan government official told CNN.
“The rescue efforts are ongoing to reach the difficult areas,” the official said. “The earthquake struck mountainous areas that are scattered geographically and it’s difficult to reach these areas in some cases.” They added that authorities are using helicopters to reach these areas and machinery to remove the rubble from the blocked roads.
Ambulances, rescue crews and soldiers have been deployed to assist with emergency response efforts, according to AP News. Aid groups have said the government has not yet made a broad appeal for help, and only limited foreign assistance has been accepted. The Interior Ministry said only search and rescue aid from non-governmental organizations in addition to aid from Spain, Qatar, the U.K. and the United Arab Emirates will be accepted.
World leaders have expressed their commiserations and offered to send in aid and rescue crews, according to CNN, including Turkey, Great Britain, France and the United States. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who lost tens of thousands of people in a massive earthquake earlier this year, said Turkey was ready to send 265 personnel and 1,000 tents. Britain said it has deployed 60 search and rescue specialists, four search dogs, rescue equipment and a medical assessment team. French President Emmanuel Macron also said Paris was ready to provide aid when the Moroccan authorities “deem it useful,” and United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. was “ready to provide any necessary assistance.
However, the Moroccan government bypassed the offers from France and the United States, explaining that poorly coordinated aid “would be counterproductive.” Morocco’s refusal to accept aid was met with frustration by rescue teams. Diplomatic relations between the nations and Morocco are good, so the decision does not seem to be political. Moroccan authorities say that this is not a rejection of international aid, rather, the decision was made based on a precise assessment of needs on the ground. Rescue efforts are a complex operation, and they need to be handled with proper coordination.
Morocco’s government said it has activated all available resources to aid victims, and emergency response efforts will continue as cities attempt to navigate the aftermath of the earthquake.