'Time quickly running out' in Morocco quake search; death toll over 2,800: Live updates

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The Moroccan military and rescue teams from multiple nations were struggling Monday to reach remote villages devastated by Friday's earthquake that destroyed infrastructure, crumbled buildings and killed more than 2,800 people, a figure that's likely to rise as hopes of finding survivors fade.

Teams from Spain, Britain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have joined the daunting relief operations. Scores of teams containing 3,500 rescuers were ready to deploy when asked, Rescuers Without Borders said. A small group of U.S. experts arrived late Sunday, Reuters reported, but many would-be rescue units were awaiting formal approval to join the search.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita on Sunday, extending his condolences and offering U.S. support for Morocco’s leadership of the humanitarian response.

The High Atlas Mountains province of Al Haouz took the brunt of the destruction, and residents feverishly cleared away rocks and debris from collapsed buildings in search of loved ones. People in Amizmiz, 35 miles southwest of Marrakech, cheered when trucks loaded with soldiers rolled into town Sunday.

"It’s a catastrophe," said survivor Salah Ancheu, who urged the government to send more help. "We don’t know what the future is."

Morocco earthquake updates: Aftershock rocks rescuers as death toll surpasses 2,000; U.N. mission inventories damage to historic sites


∎ The Moroccan Interior Ministry said 2,862 people have been confirmed dead, 1,604 of them in the Al Haouz province.

∎ More than half the 160 residents of Tafeghaghte, a village 35 miles southwest of Marrakech, are believed to have died in the quake.

∎ French Minister of Europe Catherine Colonna denied claims Morocco refused aid from Paris. She told BFMTV that President Emmanuel Macron has been in contact with King Mohammed and that France was funneling more than $5 million in aid through nongovernmental organizations in Morocco.

∎ Algeria, Morocco's much-larger neighbor to the south and east and a regional rival, said it would suspend a 2-year-old ban on Moroccan flights crossing its airspace and permit delivery of aid and medical evacuations, AfricaNews reported.

∎ More than 6,000 people gave blood Sunday at a regional transfusion center of Marrakech, AfricaNews reported. Student Youssef Qornafa was among them, saying it was "heartwarming to witness the commitment of our citizens and even foreigners who have no direct connection to the disaster have joined us. It's a beautiful thing."

A woman tries to recover some possessions from her home, which was damaged by the earthquake in the village of Tafeghaghte, near Marrakech, Morocco, on Sept. 11, 2023
A woman tries to recover some possessions from her home, which was damaged by the earthquake in the village of Tafeghaghte, near Marrakech, Morocco, on Sept. 11, 2023

Growing desperation to find survivors amid rubble

Part of the growing pessimism about finding survivors stems from the dust and debris created by the collapsing wood-and-dirt homes, choking out air pockets that might allow some people to remain alive for days under rubble. Survivors worked alongside bulldozers digging through as the sense of urgency increased.

Borja González de Escalada, vice president of the Spanish medical emergency organization SAMU Foundation − a Project HOPE partner − said residents near the quake's epicenter are traveling three hours to Marrakech to seek medical treatment they can't get closer to home.

"The next 12 hours are crucial as we work tirelessly to rescue people trapped beneath the rubble,'' he said. "Time is quickly running out. Our team is utilizing highly trained search dogs and working around the clock with our bare hands to sort through piles and piles of rubble.''

Morocco's limited acceptance of aid leads to frustration

Morocco has accepted aid from approved non-governmental organizations and only four countries − Spain, Qatar, Britain, and the United Arab Emirates − even though offers of help have poured in from across the world.

Officials say they want to avoid a lack of coordination that "would be counterproductive," perhaps reflecting lessons learned when a smaller earthquake in 2004 drew so much support that international teams overwhelmed the airport and the damaged roads leading into the hardest-hit areas.

But the approach stands in contrast to Turkey's call for global help after its own devastating earthquake earlier this year, and it has led to some frustration as several rescue teams wait for permission to come in.

"It’s their responsibility. They can do what they want," Rescuers Without Borders’ founder Arnaud Fraisse told The Associated Press. "They didn’t call. So today we think it’s no longer necessary for us to go there because we won’t do effective work."

Heartbreaking rescue: Man must choose between parents, son

Goat herder Tayeb ait Ighenbaz told the BBC he was forced to choose whether to rescue his 11-year-old son or his parents when his family was trapped under rubble in their mountain village. Tayeb said he was with his wife, two children and parents Friday night when the shock from Morocco's most powerful earthquake in more than 120 years left their small stone home in ruins.

"It all happened so quickly," Tayeb said. "We all ran to the door. My dad was sleeping and I shouted at my mom to come, but she stayed behind to wait for him."

Tayeb said his wife and daughter had fled the home, but he saw his son's hand emerging from the rubble. He dug him out and turned to his parents, but he was too late.

"I had to choose between my parents and son," Tayeb said. "I couldn't help my parents because the wall fell over half of their bodies. It's so sad. I saw my parents dying."

Physical devastation, emotional horror

The Atlanta-based humanitarian agency CARE has had a presence in Morocco since 2008, focusing on education, economic empowerment and governance, and it has worked extensively in Al Haouz. Hlima Razkaoui, national director of CARE Morocco, said the group has been coordinating with Moroccan emergency authorities to provide meals, safe water, emergency shelter and medical support to families. Razkaoui said many people are sleeping in the streets and parks in Marrakesh, afraid of what they will find when they go home.

"People are exhausted. Aside from the physical devastation of this monstrous quake, the emotional fear and horror of what people have experienced is indescribable," Razkaoui said. Though the immediate needs are critical, the long-term recovery "can take months, if not years," she said.

How to help as rescue organizations face 'vast' difficulties

International aid organizations are coordinating relief for the 300,000 people estimated to be affected by the earthquake, lending first aid and trying to keep survivors safe amid aftershocks. The task is complicated not only by the level of destruction but also the difficulty of transporting heavy equipment to remote locations that have been heavily damaged.

"The challenges are vast,'' said Caroline Holt, director of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), one of the organizations collecting donations for relief and recovery.

Others include the International Medical Corps, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, CARE and GlobalGiving.

− Cybele Mayes-Osterman

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Morocco earthquake live updates: Death toll rises, rescuers struggle