Since the devastating earthquake struck Morocco on Friday night, killing at least 2,900 people, thousands have been sleeping on the streets amid fears of aftershocks.
Aref Tahhan and his wife, Saloua, who is pregnant, were among them.
The couple, who live in France, were staying at Saloua’s grandmother’s apartment in Marrakech when the 6.8 magnitude quake struck.
“Everything started shaking,” Tahhan told Yahoo News.
The 34-year-old, who was born and raised in Syria, where earthquakes are more common, immediately turned his attention to his wife and unborn child.
“She was very frightened. She was yelling. She did not understand what was happening. Everything was shaking,” Tahhan said. “I told her, ‘Don't panic, don't panic, don't panic.’ I took her by the hand and started walking. My instinct kicked in, and I had a scenario in my mind where we could reach the apartment complex’s courtyard, so we’d be able to see the sky. I thought if something were to happen, or if everything started to crumble on us, we would not be caught in the rubble.”
Read more on Yahoo News: How to help Morocco's earthquake victims
When they eventually made it outside, Tahhan said it was “an apocalyptic scene.”
“This is a very conservative country, so there were women without their headscarves, running practically naked, holding their cats and dogs, or their kids,” he said. “Everyone was barefoot. Everyone was saying, ‘Thank you, God. Thank you, God, for your glorious intervention.’ ‘God please have mercy on us.’ Everyone was praying or was in a complete state of shock.”
Saloua’s family, including her grandmother, made it out safely.
“We hugged on the street and there's this extraordinary dopamine rush the moment you leave the building,” Tahhan said. “The adrenaline kicks in and it’s a huge relief. It’s like the end of a very nasty rollercoaster — but then you never know when the second shoe will drop.”
There were several strong aftershocks, rattling the family’s nerves.
“That’s when things started to shake again,” he recalled. “There are a lot of stray dogs in Marrakech, and they didn’t stop barking.”
More coverage of the earthquake on Yahoo News
Official information was scarce and cell communications were unreliable, so the couple got in their car and turned on the radio.
The couple was among scores of people who decided not to risk going back into their houses and apartment buildings, many of which were damaged in the earthquake.
“Some buildings were completely duct-taped. You see very big fissures and holes on the outside, very big ones,” Tahhan said. “So people just did the safest thing they could do, which is to just lie there on the street."
For the most part, though, central Marrakech was spared. The epicenter of the quake was about 44 miles south in the High Atlas Mountains.
Of the 2,901 deaths reported as of Tuesday, per the Associated Press, 1,643 were in Al Haouz province, where villages of clay and mud brick built into mountainsides have been destroyed, and rescue crews continue to dig out people, both alive and dead.
“When information came in that the earthquake happened in the mountains, everyone reached the same conclusion immediately,” Tahhan said. “This is going to be a huge disaster.”