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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Morocco races to dig out survivors after strongest quake in 100 years

The extent of the damage and number of casualties after the magnitude 6.8 earthquake late Friday remained unclear.

By Vivian Yee and Aida Alami

Rescuers in Morocco raced to reach remote areas in the mountains outside Marrakech on Sunday after the worst earthquake to hit the area in a century flattened homes across central and southern parts of the country, killing more than 2,000 people.

The extent of the damage and number of casualties after the magnitude 6.8 earthquake late Friday remained unclear because the hardest-hit communities were in the High Atlas Mountains, where the few roads appeared to be blocked by debris, and where phone service and electricity had been knocked out.

State media showed footage of helicopters airlifting aid to remote areas, where many homes are made of mud bricks, a traditional construction method that is highly vulnerable to earthquakes and heavy rains.

In Marrakech, the largest city in southern Morocco, residents confronted piles of rubble from buildings that had crumbled around them. In rural areas, Moroccans climbed through the canyons between collapsed homes to retrieve bodies. And in some remote areas, residents sifted through mountains of debris with their bare hands in search of survivors.

From isolated mountain villages to the roads into Marrakech, people set up camps outside, either because their homes were uninhabitable or because they feared aftershocks. The U.S. Geological Survey said that a 3.9-magnitude earthquake, almost certainly an aftershock, struck the area just before 9 a.m. on Sunday.

Here are other details:

— At least 2,122 people were killed in the quake, Moroccan state television reported late Sunday afternoon, and more than 2,421 were injured.

— Spain said it was sending search and rescue teams to Morocco, and Qatari state media reported that Qatar would deploy specialized vehicles and equipment. But some countries were still waiting for Morocco to formally request help. “The moment, the second they ask, we will deploy,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in India.

— Moroccan authorities announced three days of national mourning. The Moroccan army said the air force was evacuating casualties from the hardest-hit region of Haouz to a military hospital in Marrakech. The office of King Mohammed VI said that after a crisis meeting with officials in Rabat, the capital, he had ordered the government to rapidly provide shelter and rebuild houses for those in distress, “particularly orphans and the vulnerable.”

— The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement that more than 300,000 civilians in Marrakech and its outskirts had been affected by the earthquake. “Many families are trapped under the rubble of their homes, and damage to parts of Marrakesh’s Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have also been reported,” the statement said.

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