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Far from Morocco, relatives and friends rally to send money and supplies home after deadly quake

MARRAKECH, Morocco – Mr Youssef Choula was asleep in his home in Gloucestershire, England, when he awoke to a call from his brother in Marrakech, Morocco, late on Saturday. All he could hear were screams and his brother shouting: “It’s an earthquake! It’s an earthquake!”

By daybreak, the damage was clear: The family’s home in Marrakech was uninhabitable, and another in his ancestral home town, Amizmiz, was also severely damaged.

“They have nowhere they can go back to,” Mr Choula said of his family members, who spent Saturday night sleeping in a field with several other families. “They are camping and they don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”

The disaster has stunned the Moroccan diaspora, with many trying to channel grief and horror into action. Some are rallying together to send funds and organise shipments of supplies for survivors, while others are heading home to help on the ground.

“There is a very strong attachment to the home country,” said Mr Latif Dehy, 68, who lives in Avignon, a city in southern France with a large Moroccan community.

Mr Dehy, who helps manage a small non-governmental organisation that funds long-term development projects, said he hoped to harness the outpouring of support for Morocco to do that kind of work there – helping to build new roads and schools, for example.

But Mr Dehy said he received dozens of calls from Moroccans who want to immediately send help home.

“People are saying ‘I have blankets, I have diapers, I have food’ and are asking where they can bring it all,” he said.

For Moroccans watching from afar, “the only thing that helps them is knowing that they helped, that they didn’t just stand idly by”, Mr Dehy said.

The French Council of the Muslim Faith, an umbrella group of Muslim organisations, has called upon all mosques in France – which has the largest Moroccan community in Europe because of the countries’ colonial ties – to open their doors to families and friends of the quake’s victims, and it urged people to donate what they could.

Ms Ella Williams, a British doctoral student who has been living in Talat N’yakoub, a town near the quake’s epicentre, was trying to overcome a feeling of helplessness.

She arrived in Britain for a visit shortly before the quake struck and has barely slept since, spending hours on the phone trying to locate friends and neighbours as people described to her the horrifying ordeal of searching for relatives in pitch dark.

“It has been an incredibly difficult few days,” she said. “I’ve lost friends and my friends have lost their families.”

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In the midst of her grief, Ms Williams began raising money for the British Moroccan Society, a charity that promotes connections between the two countries.

As at Sunday afternoon, the group had already raised £50,000 (S$85,000) and had sent out a vehicle filled with food, drinking water and blankets, she said. Ms Williams was planning to return to Morocco on Monday to coordinate relief efforts on the ground.

Mr Choula, 41, said he was gathering money to send home. He was born in Amizmiz and has gone back almost every year since, and it was difficult for him to comprehend what will await him upon his next return.

“We are doing the best from our side,” he said, adding that “we will give them comfort if we can”. NYTIMES

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