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Search teams reach Moroccan towns devastated by earthquake

Search teams have reached the distant Moroccan mountain towns devastated by last Friday’s earthquake, which killed more than 2,900 people (Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office/PA) (PA Media)
Search teams have reached the distant Moroccan mountain towns devastated by last Friday’s earthquake, which killed more than 2,900 people (Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office/PA) (PA Media)

Search teams have reached the distant Moroccan mountain towns devastated by last Friday’s earthquake, which killed more than 2,900 people.

The 6.8 magnitude quake, stretching from the High Atlas Mountains to the historic city of Marrakesh, destroyed buildings and left survivors homeless and in urgent need of shelter, food and clothing.

On Monday, the UK International Search and Rescue (UK Isar) team, which is among a small number of foreign rescue teams in Morocco, began assessing the damage and health needs in two areas in the mountains as part of the international effort.

They are treating the injured and searching for survivors in collapsed buildings.

The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people were affected by the earthquake, the most powerful to hit Morocco in 120 years and 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. Some residents cleared away rocks by themselves.

Some villages have been completely flattened and residents are using whatever equipment they can find as they struggle to help their neighbours.

Blocked roads are preventing ambulances from reaching the wounded, and officials are scrambling to clear debris.

Rescue and relief efforts are difficult amid the mountainous terrain, risk of landslides, and large distances.

The UK Government has sent 60 search and rescue specialists, four search dogs and rescue equipment to Morocco.

Spain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are among the nations whose government-offered aid has so far been accepted by Moroccan officials, with some foreign rescue teams claiming they are awaiting permission to deploy.

Morocco’s interior ministry has said officials want to avoid a lack of co-ordination which “would be counter-productive”.

Tifawt Belaid, a senior programme manager at ActionAid, which has launched an emergency appeal to help those in need of shelter, food and clothing, is in Rabat.

She said: “While we are still awaiting the full picture, we are hearing from our contacts in the worst-affected areas that the most immediate needs are food and shelter.

“With many homes no longer standing or safe to inhabit, and with further risks of landslides as aftershocks continue, communities in these rural areas remain at further risk.

“To make matters worse, heavy rain is expected in the affected areas, increasing the risk of landslides further and leaving hundreds of thousands of people exposed to the elements.”

UK Isar is part of the National Fire Chiefs Council’s (NFCC) national resilience work and is on permanent stand-by to mobilise and assist when requested by disaster-affected countries.

NFCC chairman Mark Hardingham said: “The thoughts of the UK’s fire and rescue services are with all those affected by the devastating earthquake in Morocco.

“A team of specially trained firefighters and medics from the UK has been deployed to assist following a request from the Moroccan government to the British Government.

“They will be providing specialist technical support where it is needed most to save lives and support local emergency service teams.”

The Islamic Relief UK aid agency has launched an appeal to raise £10 million to help with relief efforts, including a nationwide mosque collection on September 15.

Islamic Relief UK director Tufail Hussain praised the “amazing generosity of our donors and the community”, adding: “The news of the earthquake in Morocco was devastating to hear, knowing that so many lives would be lost or ruined by this natural disaster. Islamic Relief teams were quickly deployed to Morocco to work with local partners.”