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Morocco Search for Survivors Continues 4 Days After Devastating Earthquake

FILE - Military personnel transport on a gurney a survivor of the September 8 earthquake at a military field hospital in the village of Asni near Moulay Brahim in al-Haouz province in the High Atlas mountains of central Morocco on September 11, 2023.

MARRAKESH — Hopes were dimming on Tuesday in Morocco's desperate search for survivors, four days after a powerful earthquake killed more than 2,800 people — most of them in remote villages in the High Atlas Mountains — and humanitarian appeals for international emergency funding.

Search-and-rescue teams from the kingdom and abroad kept digging through the rubble of broken mud-brick homes, hoping for signs of life in a race against time following the 6.8-magnitude quake late Friday.

In the tourist hub of Marrakesh, whose UNESCO-listed historic center suffered cracks and other major damage, many families still slept out in the open, huddled in blankets on public squares for fear of aftershocks.

But the need was most desperate in remote and poor mountain villages such as Missirat, only reachable via winding dirt roads southwest of Marrakesh, where traumatized inhabitants have searched by hand for missing relatives.

Many of the region's traditional adobe homes crumbled to rubble and dust, while some concrete houses now stand ajar, their former residents gingerly salvaging mattresses, blankets and cooking utensils from them.

"We feel completely abandoned here, no one has come to help us," one desperate villager, Khadija Aitlkyd, 43, told AFP. "Our houses have collapsed and we have nowhere to go. Where are all these poor people going to live?"

Residents of the village of under 100 people said bodies of the 16 villagers killed in the quake have been recovered, but their dead livestock under the stones and timber was starting to decompose.

IFRC appeal for funding

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched an emergency appeal Tuesday to raise 100 million Swiss francs ($112.3 million) to support victims of the earthquake in Morocco.

"In this appeal, we are seeking 100 million CHF to be able to deliver on the most pressing needs at this time," including water, sanitation and shelter, Caroline Holt, global director for operations at IFRC, told reporters in Geneva.

"We need to make sure that we avoid a second wave of disaster."

Holt said that the IFRC had approved 1 million CHF in funding from its Disaster Response Emergency Fund immediately after the earthquake hit to support the Moroccan Red Crescent to provide immediate relief.

"This emergency response, as with many earthquakes, is a marathon," she said.

"The people affected by the earthquake will need support for the weeks and months to come, and we will need to continue to show that solidarity and support not only now but in the future."

Remote villages destroyed

Rescuers, aid trucks and private volunteers kept traveling to stricken villages in the barren foothills of the High Atlas, many accessible only via dusty dirt roads affected by rockfalls.

In the village of Asni, in the worst-hit province of Al Haouz, the army set up a field hospital with medical tents where more than 300 patients had been treated by Monday, Colonel Youssef Qamouss told AFP.

"The hospital was deployed 48 hours ago," he said, adding that it has an X-ray unit, pharmacy and other facilities. "It started operating this morning, and we're already at more or less 300 patients."

Many Moroccan citizens have rushed to help quake victims with food, water, blankets and other aid or by donating blood to help treat the injured, an effort joined by the national football team.

The quake was Morocco's strongest on record and the deadliest to hit the North African country since a 1960 earthquake destroyed Agadir on the Atlantic coast, killing between 12,000 and 15,000 people.

Overall, at least 2,862 people have died and more than 2,500 been injured in the latest tragedy, according to an official toll issued late Monday.

Morocco has allowed rescue teams to come to its aid from Spain, Britain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates but so far declined offers from several other nations, including the United States and Israel.

100,000 children affected

Albert Vasquez, the Spanish unit's communications officer, warned on Monday that "it's very difficult to find people alive after three days" but stressed that "hope is still there."

The United Nations estimated that more than 300,000 people have been affected, one third of them children, by the powerful seismic event that hit just after 11 pm (2200 GMT) when most families were asleep.

"Thousands of homes have been destroyed, displacing families and exposing them to the elements at a time of year when temperatures drop down during the nighttime," the U.N. children's agency said.

"Schools, hospitals and other medical and educational facilities have been damaged or destroyed by the quakes, further impacting children."

The rebuilding effort is expected to be enormous for the country which is already suffering economic woes and years of drought and now fears a downturn in the crucial tourism sector.

Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch chaired a meeting on Monday on housing and reconstruction and then pledged that "citizens who have lost their homes will receive compensation," adding that the details would be announced later.

Information for this report came from AFP and Reuters.