Morocco: UK deploys search teams to find survivors buried in rubble

Rescuers are racing against time to try to reach those still trapped under their homes. ITV News' Sangita Lal reports

The desperate effort to find and rescue people who are trapped under rubble is continuing following a devastating earthquake in Morocco.

Sixty search and rescue specialists have been deployed from the UK as well as two planes of aid to help search the rubble.

A magnitude 3.9 aftershock rattled Moroccans on Sunday as they prayed for victims of the nation’s strongest earthquake in more than a century and raced to rescue survivors.

More than 2,100 people have been confirmed dead - a number that is expected to rise.

At least 2,059 more people were injured - 1,404 critically, Morocco’s Interior Ministry reported on Saturday night.

More than 2,100 people have been confirmed dead after the earthquake. Credit: AP

Flags were lowered across Morocco, as King Mohammed VI ordered three days of national mourning starting on Sunday.

The United Nations estimated that 300,000 people were affected by Friday night's magnitude 6.8 quake.

Some Moroccans complained on social media that the government wasn’t allowing more help from outside the country. International aid crews were prepared to deploy, but remained in limbo waiting for the Morocco government to request their assistance.

“We know there is a great urgency to save people and dig under the remains of buildings,” said Arnaud Fraisse, founder of Rescuers Without Borders, who had a team stuck in Paris waiting for the green light. “There are people dying under the rubble, and we cannot do anything to save them.”

Aid offers continue to pour in from around the world, and the U.N. said it was coordinating with Moroccan authorities about how international partners can provide support. The king offered thanks but no clear message about whether Morocco would welcome foreign rescuers.

Charity ActionAid UK has launched an emergency appeal to help those need of shelter, food and clothing.

People shelter in tents after their homes were damaged by the earthquake, in the town of Amizmiz. Credit: AP

Kirsten Sutherland, humanitarian programme co-ordinator at ActionAid Spain, which has worked in Morocco for more than 20 years, said many families have “lost everything”.

“In just minutes, the lives of hundreds of thousands of people have been turned upside down,” she said.

“Many families have lost everything – their loved ones, their homes and their belongings. Damage to infrastructure is hampering access to information and to affected communities, especially in remote areas.

“Our objective is to support those communities that have been most badly affected by the earthquake.”

Those left homeless by the destruction of Friday night's earthquake slept outside on Saturday, in the streets of the ancient city of Marrakech or under makeshift canopies in Atlas Mountain towns like Moulay Brahim, among the hardest-hit.

The worst destruction is in small, rural communities that are hard for rescuers to reach because of the mountainous terrain.

A car heavily damaged by the earthquake is left on the side of a road on the way to Ijjoukak village, near Marrakech. Credit: AP

Those same areas were shaken anew Sunday by a magnitude 3.9 quake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

It wasn't immediately clear if the temblor caused more damage or casualties, but it was likely strong enough to rattle nerves in areas where damage has left buildings unstable and people have spoken of their fears of aftershocks.

The earthquake on Friday toppled buildings not built to withstand such a mighty quake, trapping people in the rubble and sending others fleeing in terror.

“We felt a huge shake like it was doomsday,” Moulay Brahim resident Ayoub Toudite said. “10 seconds and everything was gone.”

The army mobilised specialised search and rescue teams, and the king ordered water, food rations and shelter to be provided to those who lost their homes.

The king called for mosques across the kingdom to hold prayers on Sunday for the victims, many of whom were buried on Saturday amid the frenzy of rescue work nearby.

The epicentre of Friday’s quake — the biggest to hit the North African country in 120 years — was near the town of Ighil in Al Haouz Province, roughly 70 kilometres (44 miles) south of Marrakech. Al Haouz is known for scenic villages and valleys tucked in the High Atlas Mountains.

About 45 kilometres (28 miles) northeast of the quake epicentre, fallen walls exposed the innards of damaged homes, their rubble sliding down hills. People in Moulay Brahim, a poor rural community of less than 3,000 people, live in homes made of clay brick and cinder block. Many of the houses are either not safe or no longer standing.

Devastation gripped each town along the High Atlas’ steep and winding switchbacks, with homes folding in on themselves and people crying as boys and helmet-clad police carried the dead through the streets.

”I was asleep when the earthquake struck," said Fatna Bechar in Moulay Brahim. "I could not escape because the roof fell on me. I was trapped. I was saved by my neighbours who cleared the rubble with their bare hands.

“Now, I am living with them in their house because mine was completely destroyed.”

Many have been left homeless and forced to sleep outside following the quake. Credit: AP

Hamid Idsalah, a 72-year-old mountain guide, said he and many others remained alive but had little future to look forward to as they lack the financial means to rebound.

Some Marrakech shop owners returned to work Sunday morning, after the king encouraged economic activities to resume nationwide and ordered plans to begin to reconstruct destroyed buildings.

For much of Saturday in historic Marrakech, people could be seen on state TV clustering in the streets, afraid to go back inside buildings that might still be unstable.

The city's famous Koutoubia Mosque, built in the 12th century, was damaged, but the extent was not immediately clear. Moroccans also posted videos showing damage to parts of the famous red walls that surround the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The president of Turkey, which lost tens of thousands of people in a massive earthquake in February, was among the countries offering assistance.

Marrakech and the mountain region hit by the quake are popular with tourists from around the world, who were among those encouraging international aid.

People carry a coffin of an earthquake victim in Moulay Brahim in the province of Al Haouz, Morocco. Credit: AP

“This is the first time I've experienced an earthquake - and for anyone who hasn't, it's very frightening," British tourist Grahame Stuart said in Moulay Brahim.

"It really sinks home when you come here and see the epicentre of all these poor people who've lost their accommodation, they have no water.

"It’s obviously a natural disaster but everybody in the European community and around the world must help”.

Police, emergency vehicles and people fleeing in shared taxis spent hours traversing unpaved roads through the High Atlas in stop-and-go traffic, often exiting their cars to help clear giant boulders from routes known to be rugged and difficult even before Friday’s earthquake.

“It felt like a bomb went off,” 34-year-old Mohamed Messi said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 when it hit at 11:11 p.m., with shaking that lasted several seconds. The agency added that a magnitude-4.9 aftershock hit 19 minutes later. The collision of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates occurred at a relatively shallow depth, which makes a quake more dangerous.

In 1960, a magnitude-5.8 tremor struck near the Moroccan city of Agadir and caused thousands of deaths. That quake prompted changes in construction rules in Morocco, but many buildings, especially rural homes, are not built to withstand such tremors.

In 2004, a magnitude-6.4 earthquake near the Mediterranean coastal city of Al Hoceima left more than 600 dead.

Friday's quake was felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria, according to the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere and Algeria's Civil Defense agency, which oversees emergency response.

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