‘I had to choose between my parents and son’

Tayeb ait Ighenbaz was forced to choose whether to save his 11-year-old son or his parents when they became trapped under rubble after Morocco’s earthquake struck.

The goat herder from a tiny community in the Atlas Mountains says he is haunted by the decision he had to make.

Tayeb was with his wife, two children and parents on Friday night in their small stone home when it was rocked by the country’s biggest earthquake in 60 years.

He leads me to his former home, which now lies in ruins.

You can still see partially inside the building and he points at the rubble, saying: “That’s where they were.”

“It all happened so quickly. When the earthquake happened we all ran to the door. My dad was sleeping and I shouted at my mum to come, but she stayed behind to wait for him,” he recalls.

On the other side, he could see only his wife and daughter.

As he made his way back into the fallen building, Tayeb found both his son and his parents trapped under debris. He could see his son’s hand poking through the rubble.

He knew he had to act quickly, and headed in the direction of his son Adam, digging desperately through the rubble to pull him out.

When he turned to his parents, trapped under a large slab of stone, he says it was too late.

“I had to choose between my parents and son,” he says with tears in his eyes.

“I couldn’t help my parents because the wall fell over half of their bodies. It’s so sad. I saw my parents dying.”

Tayeb points down at stains on his light-coloured jeans, saying this is the blood of his parents.

All of his clothes are in his house, and he has been unable to get changed since the earthquake.

The family are now living with relatives in makeshift tents close to their former home. Tayeb says all of his money was in the house and most of his goats have been killed.

“It’s like being born again into a new life. No parents, no house, no food, no clothes,” he says. “I’m 50 years old now and I’m having to start again.”

He can’t begin to think how to move forward, but remembers the lessons that his parents taught him. “They always said ‘be patient, work hard, never give up’.”

As we talk, his son Adam runs over, dressed in a Juventus football kit with Ronaldo’s name on the back, and wraps his arms around his dad.

“My dad saved me from death,” he says grinning up at him.

Just minutes down the road towards the town of Amizmiz, another father and son stand with their arms wrapped around each other.

Abdulmajid ait Jaefer says he was at home with his wife and three children when the earthquake struck and “the floor fell through”.

His son, 12-year-old Mohamed, got out of the building, but the rest of the family were stuck.

Abdulmajid says his legs were trapped under rubble, but he was pulled out by a neighbour. He then spent two hours trying to rescue his wife and one of his daughters. Both were dead when he pulled them from the debris.

The following day, his other daughter’s body was also pulled from the rubble.

Abdulmajid, 47, is now sleeping under tarpaulin across the road from his house.

He can see the kitchen, with the fridge still standing and clothes hanging out to dry.

The remnants of Tayeb ait Ighenbaz's house

The remnants of Abdulmajid’s family home

He says he cannot leave the area because he needs to “stand guard” over his possessions, and the memories of his life there.

“That’s my kitchen and my fridge. We were all in there. Now I’m just looking at it,” he says.

Before Friday, Abdulmajid says he had “never even dreamed about an earthquake. Even now, I can’t believe it.”

As we talk, cars stop next to us and people lean out to offer condolences. Others walking down the street stop to hug the mourning father and husband.

“There were five people in my family. Now there are two,” he tells me sadly.

“For now, I’m thinking of only one thing: my son.”

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