SINGAPORE – It was just after 6am last Saturday when Moroccan national Mouhtat Zakaria was woken up by the buzzing sound of his mobile phone. It was his family in Morocco, who had left him a voice message assuring him that they were safe.
They wanted to inform him that their country had been rocked by a magnitude 6.8 earthquake that struck in the High Atlas mountains. So far, more than 2,800 people have died.
Mr Mouhtat’s family home in Errachidia is about 500km away from the epicentre of the quake, but his family could still feel the tremors.
The 31-year-old, who works in logistics, said: “They felt the ground shaking, so they all ran out of the house because they were afraid it would be destroyed. When the tremors eased, they returned to the house.
“I was worried, shocked and sad at the same time. I first thought it happened only in my city, but when I checked the news, I knew the quake was felt in other parts of Morocco, and some cities were very badly affected.”
Three members of Mr Mouhtat’s extended family who live in a city called Taroudant, which was badly hit by the temblor, did not survive.
Another Singapore-based Moroccan, Mr Ibrahim Bouhelal, an associate director of an online travel agency, said he was frantic after hearing the news. His early attempts to reach his family were not successful, but he later found out that they were safe.
Mr Ibrahim, 41, said: “I tried calling my family in Rabat, where there were tremors, but the impact was not as bad as it was in cities like Marrakesh, Taroudant and Ouarzazate.”
When he could not reach them, he became more anxious until he finally heard from his family, he added.
He said: “They left the building as a safety measure when the earthquake hit, and stayed out until 4am because they were afraid of likely aftershocks.”
Moroccans in Singapore whom The Straits Times spoke to said they are trying to do whatever they can to help victims of the quake. For instance, Ms Nadia Touil Louis, 45, is tapping social media to raise awareness about the disaster.
Ms Nadia, who heads the digital and e-commerce team at a food company, said most of her family members live in the north of Morocco, which was largely spared from the quake. She said she has a few family members and friends residing in Agadir and Marrakesh, which have suffered more damage.
She said: “We are doing our best to support the victims by sending money through many trusted organisations in Morocco, and by raising awareness on social media.
“We know many people on the ground in the affected areas who need support, such as money, food and first-aid necessities to help the victims and people in despair.”
Ms Salma Miss, 35, head of global marketing at a tech firm, said she is focusing on compiling information on several trusted non-governmental groups and how to donate to them online.
She said: “Many of us were unsure about how to contribute effectively, and there were concerns about potential scams.”
Finance director Yasmina Manougui, 39, said that apart from sending money to aid groups, the Moroccan community in Singapore is drawing up a list of items that are in short supply in quake-hit areas, such as medical supplies, tents, sleeping bags, warm clothes and non-perishable food.
“The aim is to collect these items and send them to Morocco. We are still figuring out the logistics and any help is welcome,” she said.
Ms Yasmina’s family lives in Marrakesh, about 70km from the epicentre of the quake. She said many houses in the old city were destroyed, but as far as she knows, there are no casualties in her family’s neighbourhood.
She added that her family and neighbours are in a state of shock.
Ms Yasmina said: “They are also gripped by fear as many buildings have been damaged by the earthquake and they are not sure whether they will stand another aftershock.
“The communities near the epicentre in the Haouz region are the ones that suffered the most from the earthquake. They have lost their loved ones, their houses and for some of them, they are still waiting for help.”
Ms Saida Chakri, a board member of the Moroccan Chamber of Commerce and Industry Singapore, said: “The first priority was for Morocco to organise blood donations in Marrakesh and all over the country. The response to the blood donations was overwhelmingly positive and continues to grow stronger.
“In terms of items to donate, I would say they need tents for families to sleep in, blankets, generators for electricity, medical supplies, clothes, canned food and milk for babies.”
She hopes Singaporeans will step forward to donate. One way is by donating directly to a special fund set up by the Morocco Treasury General. The fund accepts donations from any part of the world.
Ms Nadia said spirits are still high among Moroccans despite the disaster.
A photograph she received from a friend in the Chichaoua region, about 75km from Marrakesh and badly hit by the quake, shows a little girl named Zineb standing on a pile of debris, smiling at her two sisters, who dream of becoming a doctor and teacher.
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