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Morocco mourns quake victims as death toll passes 2,000

TAFEGHAGHTE, Morocco – Moroccans on Sunday mourned the victims of a devastating earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people, as rescue teams raced to find survivors trapped in the rubble of flattened villages.

The strongest quake to hit the country has killed at least 2,012 people and injured more than 2,000, many of them seriously, according to the latest official figures.

Friday’s magnitude-6.8 quake struck 72km south-west of the tourist hub of Marrakesh, wiping out entire villages in the hills of the Atlas mountain range.

“I’ve lost everything,” said Mr Lahcen, a resident of the mountain village of Moulay Brahim, whose wife and four children were killed.

Rescue workers recovered the bodies of his three daughters from the rubble of what was once their home, but have not yet found the bodies of his wife and son.

“I can’t do anything about it now, I just want to get away from the world and mourn,” said Mr Lahcen.

Troops and emergency services have scrambled to reach remote mountain villages where victims are still feared trapped.

Al-Haouz province, where the epicentre of the earthquake was located, suffered the most deaths – 1,293 – followed by the province of Taroudant with 452.

Citizens on Sunday rushed to hospitals in Marrakesh to donate blood to help the many injured.

‘Everyone lost family’

Ms Bouchra, another resident of Moulay Brahim, dried her tears with her scarf as she watched men digging graves to bury the victims.

“My cousin’s grandchildren are dead,” she said in a knotted voice.

“I saw the devastation of the earthquake live, and I’m still shaking. It’s like a ball of fire that has swallowed up everything in its path,” she said. “Everyone here has lost family, whether in our village or elsewhere in the region.”

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Ms Fatema Satir, a resident of Marrakesh, told AFP that many people were sleeping in the street for fear of their houses collapsing.

“Look where all these people are sleeping. There is no help for us, our houses have been cracked, others destroyed like my daughter’s house, which was wiped out. We are in a chaotic state.”

In the city’s historic Jemaa el-Fna square, about 20 people were huddled on the ground, wrapped in blankets, while others were staying on the lawn of the nearby town hall, whose 12th century ramparts had partially collapsed.

“We spent the night outside the old town, in a safe place,” said Ms Maria, a Spanish tourist.

The authorities declared three days of national mourning, while several countries, including Israel, France, Spain, Italy and the United States, have offered aid.

US deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said: “We’ve got search and rescue teams ready to deploy… We are also ready to release funds at the right time.”

Spain, meanwhile, said it would send search and rescue teams and other aid after it received a formal request for help from Rabat.

Algeria, which has long had rocky relations with its neighbour Morocco, opened its airspace, which had been closed for two years, to flights carrying humanitarian aid and evacuating the injured.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose country in recent years established ties with Morocco, offered to send search and rescue teams, declaring that “Israel stands by Morocco in its difficult time”.

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‘Under the debris’

The Red Cross warned that it could take years to repair the damage.

“It won’t be a matter of a week or two… We are counting on a response that will take months, if not years,” Dr Hossam Elsharkawi, the organisation’s Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement.

The village of Tafeghaghte, 60km south-west of Marrakesh, was almost entirely destroyed by the quake, an AFP team reported. Very few buildings are still standing.

“Three of my grandchildren and their mother are dead,” said 72-year-old Omar Benhanna. “They’re still under the debris. It wasn’t so long ago that we were playing together.”

Residents buried around 70 victims in the nearby cemetery on Saturday, as cries and screams punctuated the funeral rites.

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In the evening, television channels broadcast aerial images showing entire villages of clay houses in the Al-Haouz region completely destroyed.

“The public authorities are still mobilised to speed up rescue operations and evacuate the injured,” the Interior Ministry said on Saturday evening.

The tremor was also felt in the coastal cities of Rabat, Casablanca, Agadir and Essaouira, where many panicked residents took to the streets in the middle of the night, fearing that their homes would collapse.

This earthquake is the deadliest in Morocco since the 1960 quake that destroyed Agadir, a disaster in which more than 12,000 people died. AFP

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