Moroccan soldiers and aid teams battle to reach remote, quake-hit towns as toll rises past 2,400

TAFEGHAGHTE, Morocco (AP) — Moroccan soldiers and aid teams in trucks and helicopters battled Monday to reach remote mountain towns devastated by a monstrous earthquake that killed more than 2,400 people, with survivors desperate for help to find loved ones feared trapped under the rubble.

Moroccan officials have so far accepted government-offered aid from just four countries — Spain, Qatar, Britain and the United Arab Emirates — and some foreign aid teams said they were awaiting permission to deploy. Morocco’s Interior Ministry says officials want to avoid a lack of coordination that “would be counterproductive.”

The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people were affected by Friday night’s magnitude 6.8 quake, made more dangerous by its relatively shallow depth.

Most of the destruction and deaths were in Al Haouz province in the High Atlas Mountains, where homes folded in on themselves and steep, winding roads became clogged with rubble. Residents sometimes cleared away rocks themselves.

People cheered when trucks full of soldiers arrived Sunday in the town of Amizmiz. But they pleaded for more help.

“It’s a catastrophe,’’ said survivor Salah Ancheu in the town where mountainside homes and a mosque’s minaret collapsed.

“We don’t know what the future is. The aid remains insufficient,” the 28-year-old said.

Army units deployed Monday along a paved road leading from Amizmiz to remoter mountain villages. State news agency MAP reported that bulldozers and other equipment were being used to clear the routes. Tourists and residents lined up to give blood. In some villages, people wept as boys and helmet-clad police carried the dead through streets.

Aid offers poured in from around the world. About 100 teams made up of a total of 3,500 rescuers are registered with a U.N. platform and ready to deploy in Morocco when asked, Rescuers Without Borders said.

A Spanish search-and-rescue team arrived in Marrakech and headed to the rural Talat N’Yaaqoub, according to Spain’s Emergency Military Unit. Britain sent a 60-person search team with four dogs, medical staff, listening devices and concrete-cutting gear.

But other aid teams overseas that were poised to deploy expressed frustration that they couldn’t step in without government approval. Germany had a team of more than 50 rescuers waiting near Cologne-Bonn Airport but sent them home, news agency dpa reported.

The Czech Republic said it had a team of 70 rescuers ready to go and is waiting for permission to take off.

France, which has many ties to Morocco and said four of its citizens died in the quake, said Monday that authorities in the North African country are evaluating proposals on a case-by-case basis.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said Morocco is “the master of its choices, which must be respected.” She announced 5 million euros ($5.4 million) in emergency funds for Moroccan and international non-governmental groups rushing to help survivors. French towns and cities have offered more than 2 million euros ($2.1 million) in aid, and popular performers are also collecting donations.

Those left homeless — or fearing more aftershocks — have slept outside in the streets of the ancient city of Marrakech or under makeshift canopies in devastated Atlas Mountain towns like Moulay Brahim.

”I was asleep when the earthquake struck. I could not escape because the roof fell on me. I was trapped. I was saved by my neighbors who cleared the rubble with their bare hands,” said Fatna Bechar. “Now, I am living with them in their house because mine was completely destroyed.”

The quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 and hit at 11:11 p.m. Friday, the USGS said. It was North African country’s strongest quake in over 120 years, and it toppled buildings in regions where many are constructed with bricks made of mud. A total of 2,497 people were confirmed dead and at least 2,476 others were injured, the Interior Ministry reported.

Aftershocks have since hit the zone, rattling nerves in areas where damage has left buildings unstable.

Morocco’s deadliest quake was a magnitude 5.8 temblor in 1960 that struck near the city of Agadir, killing at least 12,000. It prompted Morocco to change construction rules, but many buildings, especially rural homes, are not built to withstand such tremors.

Flags were lowered across Morocco, as King Mohammed VI ordered three days of national mourning starting Sunday. But there was little time for mourning as survivors tried to salvage anything from damaged homes.

Khadija Fairouje’s face was puffy from crying as she joined relatives and neighbors hauling possessions down rock-strewn streets. She had lost her daughter and three grandsons aged 4 to 11 when their home collapsed while they were sleeping less than 48 hours earlier.

“Nothing’s left. Everything fell,” said her sister, Hafida Fairouje.


Associated Press journalists Mark Carlson in Marrakech, Morocco; Houda Benalla in Rabat, Morocco; Angela Charlton, Elaine Ganley and John Leicester in Paris; Jill Lawless in London; and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed.

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