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Morocco earthquake relief update: "entire communities completely isolated"

Impact from the September 2023 earthquake in Douar Agadir Jamaa, Taroudant Province of Morocco. Photo: Reda Benkhadra/WikiCommons

Impact from the September 2023 earthquake in Douar Agadir Jamaa, Taroudant Province of Morocco. Photo: Reda Benkhadra/WikiCommons

The death toll from the September 8 earthquake in Morocco surpassed 2,000 early Sunday morning, and intense relief efforts led by the Moroccan army search and rescue teams continued in what experts say will be a critical next couple of days.

According to research from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, most earthquake survivors are found within the first 72 hours, “which,” the researchers state, “are called the ‘golden hours’ due to the greatest chance of saving lives.”

The 6.8 magnitude quake struck the region of Al-Haouz late Friday night, and its impacts reached beyond nearby Marrakesh to 200 miles away in Rabat and Casablanca.

The late-night timing of the quake meant many people were in their homes during the initial impact, which experts say is one reason for the high death toll.

Three days of national mourning

Damages in Moulay Brahim following the September 9, 2023 earthquake. Photo: Reda Benkhadra/WikiCommons

“As we enter a three-day national mourning period, hundreds of people are sleeping in the streets at night, lying in blankets in parks in the heart of Marrakesh, too afraid to go home,” Hlima Razkaoui, National Director of CARE Maroc, said. “People are exhausted, aside from the physical devastation of this monstrous quake, the emotional fear and horror of what people have experienced is indescribable.”

As events develop, CARE in Morocco is adapting its programming to address the psychological impact of the quake and its aftermath.

“We know from previous earthquake responses that while the immediate needs are critical, the reality is that recovery from such disasters can take months, if not years,” Razkaoui said.

Damaged roads & isolated communities

A magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck Morocco on September 8. Rescue efforts are ongoing. Photo: CARE International

Regional authorities and the Red Crescent of Morocco are coordinating the emergency relief efforts and have mobilized hospitals and firefighters and established crisis centers.

However, the Atlas mountain range can be difficult to traverse in the best of circumstances, and on-the-ground teams have said rescue efforts have been severely impaired by the quake’s damage to roads and bridges. Boulder-strewn highways have left entire communities completely isolated.

Eyewitness accounts reported buildings throughout Marrakesh’s densely populated, labyrinthine streets began to crumble immediately, including many of high cultural and historical significance.

Outside the city, the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – collapsed.

“Humanitarian action in Morocco is really well coordinated by local authorities and various NGOs, including CARE, are coordinating together to respond to the emergency needs of people, especially vulnerable groups such as women and girls,” Deepmala Mahla, VP of Humanitarian Affairs at CARE USA, told MSNBC.

“The lifesaving rescue operations are an immediate priority, but for many who have survived but lost everything, many are in a state of shock. They need hot meals, safe drinking water, emergency shelter. There are also significant medical needs. Important to note also is that we live in a fast-moving news cycle… it’s easy to forget that the needs of the people following a disaster are long term.”

CARE’s immediate priority has been to provide meals, safe water supply, emergency shelter, and medical support to families that have been impacted by the earthquake.

As the situation on the ground evolves, CARE teams plan to adapt their response strategy to ensure they can provide timely, culturally appropriate and gender-sensitive assistance to families in need.

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