Morocco earthquake work was huge challenge

A group of UK firefighters who helped with the rescue effort after an earthquake struck Morocco have said it was one of the “biggest” challenges they had ever faced.

The 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck on 8 September, killing more than 2,900 people and injuring more than 5,000.

Four Lincolnshire firefighters and a rescue dog were part of the UK International Search and Rescue Team.

Team member Neil Woodmansey said it was “a reality check” for those involved.

Mr Woodmansey, his six-year-old dog Colin and colleagues Karl Keuneke, Darren Burchnall and Ben Clarke were among 60 firefighters from 14 UK fire services to join the team.

The firefighter, who lives in Sleaford, has been involved in rescue efforts abroad for more than 20 years, but said it was still a big moment when the call came.

“One minute, it’s a Saturday morning [and] you’ve got your plans – I was going into Lincoln for a few drinks – and the next thing, you’re packing your bags and you’re flying off to try and assist and to help the people of Morocco,” he said.

“As soon as we got there, we headed up into the mountains and as you can imagine, the journey was was difficult.”

‘Everything taken away’

The epicentre of the tremor was in the High Atlas Mountains, about 44 miles (71km) from Marrakesh, and many of the worst affected areas were remote villages and towns.

Mr Burchnall said it would take up to five hours to reach affected villages due to blocked roads and “really narrow mountain tracks” and aftershocks also thwarted their efforts to get to remote locations.

Mr Woodmansey said it was “exciting but terrifying”.

“Colin just laid there and went to sleep, but the rest of us were kind of a little bit on edge,” he said.

A man walks through the rubble of a ruined village

More than 2,900 people are known to have died in the earthquake

Mr Clarke, who is based at Sleaford fire station, said the biggest impact on him had been the scale of the disaster.

“In the fire service, we normally deal with smaller incidents, such as a house or a car, so to go from that to a town, a village, a city, an entire country affected by the earthquake, it was probably one of the biggest things that I’ve taken to heart and it’s going to stay with me personally,” he said.

Mr Keuneke, who is usually based at Lincoln South fire station, said a “lot of families” had had “everything taken away from them – their homes and loved ones”.

“We’re used to seeing people at some of the worst times in their lives, but to see it on that sort of scale, it was completely different to anything I have experienced.”

Mr Woodmansey said the experience had served as something of “a reality check”, adding: “It makes you appreciate what you’ve got.”

Follow BBC East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Send your story ideas to

Leave a Comment