RABAT, Morocco – The death toll in the powerful earthquake that struck Morocco on Sunday rose to 2,122 people as rescuers in the country raced against time in search for potential survivors in a challenging mission in remote mountainous areas.
The quake, which rattled several parts of the North African country on Friday, triggered rock slides, blocking roads and making it hard for rescue teams to reach the large affected mountainous areas.
At least 2,421 others were injured in the quake, Moroccan state television reported Sunday, citing an Interior Ministry update.
In the province of Al Haouz, the epicentre of the quake, 1,351 deaths have been registered, according to the latest tally.
Rescue efforts have been proceeding slowly as workers face inhospitable pathways and roads blocked by crumbling rocks, with soil falling due to the quake, witnesses said.
Brahim Edmu, a resident of the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, said he had been trying to reach Talat N’Yaaqoub, one of the mountain villages hard hit by the earthquake in Al Haouz, so he and his friends could deliver relief supplies.
But the nearest road to the village becomes impassable about 10 kilometres away, due to rockslides.
“The situation is a catastrophe. Many are still under rubble. The survivors are isolated from the world due to power cuts and mobile phones that have run out of charge,” he said.
“I visited the village yesterday (Saturday). I’m on my way to it again carrying water, food and medicines to deliver to the survivors, who spent their second night in the open. The survivors are slowly removing debris with their simple tools,” he told the German Press Agency.
So far, there has been no comment from authorities.
Talat N’Yaaoub is typical of the small villages that are scattered throughout the mountains that stretch from the city of Marrakesh to the province of Taroudant.
Amid frantic efforts, Moroccan Red Crescent rescue workers are to receive about $1.1 million to help deal with the aftermath of the devastating earthquake, said the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
Since the quake struck, Moroccan Red Crescent teams have been providing disaster relief such as psychosocial services and search and rescue support.
The money from the umbrella organization will be used by Moroccan volunteers to buy essential supplies on the ground. “The challenges are vast,” said IFRC crisis manager Caroline Holt.
Getting heavy recovery equipment to remote earthquake zones and quickly helping the severely injured is critical at the moment, she said.
Meanwhile several countries have expressed sympathy and offered support to Morocco.
The Spanish army sent a specialist rescue team to Morocco, with 56 members of the Military Emergency Unit (UME) and four search dogs, the Spanish Defence Ministry said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
The move came after Morocco sent a formal request for assistance to Spain, Spanish media reported.
Members of Spain’s Firefighters Without Borders were already in Morocco on Sunday, traveling by land to the worst affected area in the Atlas Mountains south of Marrakesh, an area also popular with tourists.
Rescue workers from Germany’s Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) said on Sunday that they are ready and waiting to help the thousands of Moroccan victims, a THW spokesman said.
To date, Morocco has not made a formal request, which is why they “cannot take action,” the spokesman said.
Tunisia meanwhile said it decided to send aid to Morocco.
Tunisian President Kais Saied gave the go-ahead to coordinate with the Moroccan authorities to offer urgent aid and dispatch civil defence teams to support search and rescue there, Tunisia’s state news agency TAP reported, citing a presidential statement.
Likewise, a Qatari rescue team left Sunday for Morocco, the Gulf country’s official news agency QNA said.
Most people in affected areas preferred to spent their second night in the open for fear of aftershocks, locals said.
A 4.5-magnitude tremor was registered on Sunday in Morocco’s Ighil area south of Marrakesh, but no casualties were reported.
“Tremors continued, but this was the strongest,” Nasser Jabour, the director of the National Institute of Geophysics, was quoted by Moroccan news website Hespress as saying.
The quake reduced a small mountain village to rubble in the Chichaoua province, near the city of Marrakesh, Moroccan media reported.
Rescuers operating at the devastated village had retrieved 65 bodies from the rubble and were searching for four others, Moroccan state television said.
A mass grave was set up for their burial.
Due to the rugged area, authorities used drones to discover the bodies under the debris and aircraft to deliver relief aid to survivors, Hespress reported.
It is not clear yet how many people lived in the village. But according to Hespress, there were around 100 mud-brick and cement houses there.
Morocco declared three days of national mourning for the victims, with the national flag flown at half mast over all public buildings, according to a royal court statement.
Upon directives from Moroccan King Mohammed VI, a special Islamic prayer was offered in all mosques nationwide on Sunday to commemorate the dead victims, according to state news agency MAP.