Moroccans pull together for Atlas region
The column of vehicles heading south seems endless. For days, fully laden cars and trucks have been driving towards Amizmiz and further into the Atlas Mountains. Piles of mattresses are strapped to car roofs, sacks, blankets and bottles of water stuffed inside.
Many vehicles have Morocco's red flag with its green star stuck to the bonnet with duct tape, while some also display the image of King Mohammed VI. At one junction, a famous Moroccan comedian sits and makes breakfast for free for the people driving south to help.
The worst natural disaster in more than six decades has led to a wave of national solidarity. Following the earthquake just over a week ago, Moroccans reacted faster and with more courage than their own government: they loaded up whatever they could fit in their vehicles and hit the road.
Moroccans mobilised by the disaster
They have come from all over the country. Number plates from Rabat, Casablanca and the deep South can be seen, interspersed with number plates from France and Spain, where many Moroccans live. "We left Tangiers yesterday. Our relatives have lost everything, but Alhamdulillah (praise be to God) they are alive," says the father of a family whose old Peugeot is crammed so full there is virtually no space left for the children on the back seat.
The disaster has united and mobilised Morocco. More than 2900 people died, more than 5600 were injured, and more than 300,000 have been affected by the quake.
"We couldn't just go on holidaying in Casablanca. We had to do something," says Zakia Mkhayfi. The woman with Moroccan roots lives in Frankfurt, Germany, and was just visiting the North African country. Now she is on her way to the Atlas Mountains with her husband to find a village that needs her donations of warm clothes and blankets the most. Soon the first rains will set in and then winter, which can be bitterly cold.
"We have set up a PayPal account. More than 5,000 euros have already been donated, which we are using to buy things here," says the German-Moroccan. She says others have already loaded trucks in Germany and sent them on their way, similarly in Spain and France.
Private clinics send staff and vehicles
As soon as the Internet was back up and running, Moroccan organisations, businesses and families began using WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook to identify needs and coordinate deliveries. At times, there have been so many private vehicles on the road that professional rescue teams and military transport vehicles have had trouble getting through.
Private hospitals from all over the country had dispatched ambulances and medical staff. Traffic jams formed on the country roads. One week after the earthquake, many mountain roads were still blocked by fallen rocks, making access to some mountain villages impossible. Helicopters have been dropping relief supplies from the air, with pack animals covering the last kilometres on the ground.
Ever since King Mohammed VI visited the injured in a hospital in the nearby city of Marrakesh on 12 September and donated blood, the state apparatus has been running at full steam. The military and civil protection are slowly taking control of the initial chaos of spontaneous solidarity.
In the immediate aftermath of the quake, many Amizmiz residents constructed emergency shelters out of plastic sheets and blankets to protect themselves from the cold night temperatures and the scorching sun. Now, new yellow and blue tents have been erected by the state civil defence on the outskirts of the village.
In the upper part of Amizmiz, where the quake caused entire streets to collapse, tents have been set up in the market square and in the olive groves. The army has set up a camp of barrack tents for a thousand homeless people – complete with field kitchen and pharmacy. Uniformed soldiers take crying children by the hand to help them find their families. There is a small field hospital; banks have set up mobile branches.
The belongings of most families now fit into a few large, colourful shopping bags. With blank stares, they stand in front of the ruins of their houses, here the dusty outline of a mattress, there the red shards of a tajine. One man says that his family of seven had been in touch via Facebook. He then points to the small gap under a concrete girder through which even his elderly mother managed to squeeze to escape. The search teams had not yet given up, despite the fact they had only been recovering dead bodies for days.
Spanish and British rescue workers have pitched their tents in a new housing estate at the entrance to Amizmiz. Two rugged red vehicles belonging to a rescue team from Qatar are parked next to them. In a small blue UN tent, the Moroccan army is coordinating the operation with professional teams from the four other countries. There would be plenty of room for more helpers on the site.[embed:render:embedded:node:50788]
But coordination is still proving problematic, even with a respected organisation like the Red Cross. The first relief transport to Morocco was supposed to take off from Germany on 14 September. But the plane that was intended to bring aid supplies requested by the regional partner from the Red Crescent from Leipzig to Marrakesh was held up. New rules and regulations had been announced at short notice. "We are working at full speed to eliminate this last-minute hold-up," said the German Red Cross.
"In some villages, not a single house was spared"
People need help quickly. It is already getting bitterly cold in the mountains at night. "In some villages, not a single house was spared," says Oliver Hochedez in Marrakesh. He heads the emergency relief department of Malteser International, the relief organisation of the Order of Malta.
He had been on a fact-finding mission with a colleague since 11 September – in an impassable mountainous area with countless villages, some of which have fewer than 60 inhabitants. The situation is very different from the quake in Turkey, which mainly hit large cities with modern buildings. In the Atlas Mountains, simple houses made of wood and mud collapsed, burying people underneath.
"Food and water are not the problem. Sanitation will become crucial when the autumn rains set in. And especially shelter for the winter," says Hochedez. It is a huge task, one that will be impossible to accomplish before the first snow falls.
According to the latest figures published by Morocco's royal household at the end of last week, 50,000 houses were either destroyed or damaged in the quake.
© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung/Qantara.de 2023