Morocco has been mourning victims of its strongest earthquake in more than a century and trying to rescue more survivors from the rubble.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the aftershock on Sunday, measuring 3.9 on the Richter scale, caused more damage or casualties, but it was strong enough to rattle nerves in areas where damage has left buildings unstable.
Soldiers and aid workers have been racing to reach remote villages in the Atlas Mountains which may be almost entirely destroyed. So far the disaster is known to have killed more than 2,100 people — a number that is expected to rise.
The United Nations estimated that 300,000 people were affected by Friday night’s magnitude 6.8 quake and some Moroccans complained on social networks that the government wasn’t allowing more outside help. International aid crews were poised to deploy, but some grew frustrated waiting for the government to officially request assistance.
“We know there is a great urgency to save people and dig under the remains of buildings,” said Arnaud Fraisse, founder of Rescuers Without Borders, who had a team stuck in Paris waiting for the green light. “There are people dying under the rubble, and we cannot do anything to save them.”
Help was slow to arrive in Amizmiz, where a whole chunk of the town of orange and red sandstone brick homes carved into a mountainside appeared to be missing. A mosque’s minaret had collapsed.
“It’s a catastrophe,’’ said villager Salah Ancheu. “We don’t know what the future is. The aid remains insufficient.”
Residents swept rubble off the main unpaved road into town and people cheered when trucks full of soldiers arrived. But they pleaded for more help.
“There aren’t ambulances, there aren’t police, at least for right now,” Ancheu said.
Those left homeless — or fearing more aftershocks — slept outside on Saturday, in the streets of the ancient city of Marrakech or under makeshift canopies in hard-hit Atlas Mountain towns like Moulay Brahim. The worst destruction was in rural communities that are hard to reach because the roads that snake up the mountainous terrain were covered by fallen rocks.
Those areas were shaken anew on Sunday by a magnitude 3.9 aftershock, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It wasn’t immediately clear if it caused more damage or casualties, but it was strong enough to rattle nerves in areas where damage has left buildings unstable and residents feared aftershocks.
Friday’s earthquake toppled buildings not strong enough to withstand such a mighty temblor, trapping people in the rubble and sending others fleeing in terror. A total of 2,122 people were confirmed dead and at least 2,421 others were injured — 1,404 of them critically, the Interior Ministry reported.
Most of the dead — 1,351 — were in the Al Haouz district in the High Atlas Mountains, the ministry said.
Flags were lowered across Morocco, as King Mohammed VI ordered three days of national mourning starting Sunday. The army mobilised search and rescue teams, and the king ordered water, food rations and shelters to be sent to those who lost homes.
He also called for mosques to hold prayers Sunday for the victims, many of whom were buried Saturday amid the frenzy of rescue work nearby.
But Morocco has not made an international appeal for help like Turkey did in the hours following a massive quake earlier this year, according to aid groups.
Aid offers poured in from around the world, and the U.N. said it had a team in Morocco coordinating international support. About 100 teams made up of a total of 3,500 rescuers are registered with a U.N. platform and ready to deploy in Morocco when asked, Rescuers Without Borders said. Germany had a team of more than 50 rescuers waiting near Cologne-Bonn Airport but sent them home, news agency dpa reported.
In signs that Morocco was accepting more assistance, a Spanish search-and-rescue team arrived in Marrakech and headed to the rural Talat N’Yaaqoub, according to Spain’s Emergency Military Unit. Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said in a radio interview that Moroccan authorities asked for help. Another rescue team from Nice, France, also was on its way.
Officials in the Czech Republic said the country was sending about 70 members of a rescue team trained in searching through rubble after receiving an official request from the Moroccan government. Czech Defence Minister Jana Cernochova said three military planes were prepared to transport the team.
In France, which has many ties to Morocco and said four of its citizens died in the quake, towns and cities have offered more than two million euros in aid. Popular performers are collecting donations.