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Foreign teams join Morocco quake rescue efforts

Tikht, Morocco – Rescuers on Monday faced a growing race against time to pull out any survivors from the rubble of devastated villages in Morocco’s Atlas mountains, three days after the country’s strongest-ever earthquake.

The 6.8 magnitude quake that struck late last Friday south-west of the city of Marrakech has claimed more than 2,500 lives and injured a similar number, according to the latest official toll issued on Monday.

Morocco on Sunday announced it had accepted aid offers from four foreign nations, with many other countries saying they are also willing to send assistance.

The authorities have responded favourably “at this stage” to offers from Spain, Britain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates “to send search-and-rescue teams”, the Interior Ministry said.

It noted that the foreign teams were in contact with the Moroccan authorities to coordinate efforts, and said only four offers had been accepted because “a lack of coordination could be counterproductive”.

Other offers may be accepted in the future “if the needs evolve”, said the ministry.

France was willing to provide aid “the second” Morocco requested it, said President Emmanuel Macron.

A Qatari aid flight left Al-Udeid air base outside Doha on Sunday evening, an AFP journalist said.

Spain has sent 86 rescuers and eight search dogs to Morocco to “help in the search and rescue of survivors of the devastating earthquake suffered in our neighbouring country”, said a Defence Ministry statement.

“We will send whatever is needed because everyone knows that these first hours are key, especially if there are people buried under rubble,” Spanish Defence Minister Margarita Robles told public television.

Villages flattened

The earthquake wiped out entire villages in the hills of the Atlas mountain range, where civilian rescuers and members of Morocco’s armed forces continue to search for survivors and bodies of the dead.

Many houses in remote mountain villages were built from mud bricks.

The remote village of Tafeghaghte, 60km from Marrakech in Al-Haouz province, was almost entirely destroyed, an AFP team reported, with very few buildings still standing.

“Everyone is gone! My heart is broken. I am inconsolable,” cried Ms Zahra Benbrik, 62, who said she had lost 18 relatives.

The authorities recorded more than 1,300 deaths in Al-Haouz province alone.

According to Moroccan public television, “more than 18,000 families have been affected” by the quake in Al-Haouz, the site of its epicentre.

The Education Ministry announced that classes in the worst-hit villages of Al-Haouz were “suspended”, and schools would not be open from Monday.

Citizens on Sunday rushed to hospitals in Marrakech to donate blood while many others mobilised to help those affected.

Some parts of Marrakech’s historic medina and its network of alleyways saw significant damage, with mounds of rubble and crumpled buildings.

Morocco has declared three days of national mourning.

The Red Cross warned it could take years to repair the damage caused by the quake. Its Middle East and North Africa director, Mr Hossam Elsharkawi, said: “It won’t be a matter of a week or two… We are counting on a response that will take months, if not years.”

The quake was the deadliest in the kingdom since a 1960 earthquake destroyed Agadir, killing more than 12,000 people. AFP

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