Original Author: Vivian Yee and Aida Alami
Government rescue workers began to reach some devastated mountain villages in Morocco on Monday, but many more settlements were waiting desperately for help, three days after the country was hit by the strongest earthquake in the area in more than a century.
In the town of Amizmiz at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains in the province of Al Haouz, more ambulances and uniformed emergency personnel were on the streets than on Sunday, and more survivors appeared to be sheltering in disaster relief tents rather than in makeshift structures.
But some roads in the Atlas Mountains near the ancient southern city of Marrakesh remained blocked by landslides caused by Friday’s earthquake, which killed at least 2,681 people and injured more than 2,500, according to the latest figures released by the Interior Ministry on Monday.
Many survivors were without power and phone service, fueling criticism on social media about the government’s response. In some villages where homes are made of mud bricks, as many as half of the houses were flattened. With official aid slow to arrive, many Moroccan citizens have stepped in themselves to fill in the gaps.
In one remote Atlas Mountains village, Douar Tnirt, residents aided by a volunteer group dug through rubble to try and find a 9-year-old girl believed to be buried under her collapsed house. Among those digging was her father, Mohammed Abarada, who had survived the quake with his other daughter, a baby, in his arms.
When a team of Moroccan emergency personnel and Spanish aid workers arrived at the home on Monday, some residents greeted them with anger.
“Ninety-six hours!” one man screamed after an officer told the crowd to keep back. “People came from all over. We buried people. We rescued people.”
Elsewhere in the village, volunteers carried a woman away on a stretcher after she began bleeding heavily. She had lost her husband in the earthquake, and now friends in the village said she might have had a miscarriage.
Others tried to comfort the wounded and grieving. A group of women who had come from the city of Casablanca to help their family in Douar Tnirt threw their arms around their cousins and other women, kissing them on both cheeks and murmuring words of reassurance and sympathy.
“It’s what God commanded,” one said.
A lack of ambulances and other transportation from Douar Tnirt meant that some people who had been pulled alive from the rubble over the weekend died before they could be taken to Marrakesh for treatment, residents said. Others waited for hours before being driven there by private transport.
Some Moroccans expressed frustration with the pace of aid efforts.
“Help was extremely late,” said Fouad Abdelmoumni, a Moroccan economist. “The overwhelming majority of victims have had nothing to eat, and some nothing to drink, for 48 hours or more, including in areas accessible by roads that are still in good condition.”
The Moroccan government has been generally tight-lipped since the quake struck, offering little information about rescue efforts, providing infrequent updates on casualties and releasing few comments from King Mohammed VI, who waited hours before making his first public statement on the disaster.
Late Sunday, a government spokesman, Mustapha Baitas, appeared to push back on the criticism that the response had been slow and uncoordinated, with many survivors left to fend for themselves.
“From the first seconds this devastating earthquake occurred, and in following the instructions of His Royal Majesty, all civil and military authorities and medical staff, military and civil, have worked on the swift and effective intervention to rescue the victims and recover the bodies of the martyrs,” Mr. Baitas said in a video published on social media.
Mr. Baitas said that hundreds of doctors and nurses, as well as ambulances and medical equipment, had been sent to hospitals in quake-affected areas. He also said that the government had approved the creation of a fund to receive aid donations.
The Education Ministry said that schools would be suspended in 43 villages in the provinces of Al Haouz, Taroudant and Shishawa. The ministry said it was looking for alternate ways to continue educating children. At least seven teachers have died and over 500 educational facilities have been destroyed or damaged in the earthquake, it said.
Since the quake hit, dozens of countries, including the United States, and international aid groups have offered assistance. But Morocco has officially accepted aid only from Britain, Spain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, according to its Interior Ministry. Morocco has a history of caution about who it lets into the country, although small teams of volunteer rescue workers from around the world have begun to trickle in.
The British ambassador to Morocco, Simon Martin, said on Monday that a team of 60 experts with equipment and four rescue dogs had flown into Marrakesh overnight. Spain’s Defense Ministry said a military aid team had deployed to Morocco to assist with search and rescue operations and to help coordinate other international teams in the emergency zone.
France’s foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, denied suggestions that Morocco was refusing French aid because of frosty diplomatic relations between the countries, and said it was up to the Moroccan authorities to decide the timing and nature of any foreign assistance.
In a statement on Sunday evening, the Moroccan Interior Ministry said it would continue to “precisely assess needs on the ground” and warned that “non-coordination in such situations can be counterproductive.”
In Morocco, power is concentrated in the king’s hands when it comes to critical matters of state like the response to the current crisis. This can leave other government institutions paralyzed, waiting for the king to take the lead.
Mr. Abdelmoumni, the Moroccan economist, said many local officials were waiting for the king to make a public appearance before taking action. Mohammed, who has ruled since 1999, is wary of unrest and largely does not tolerate criticism or dissent.
“The fear of overshadowing the king keeps people from taking full action until he shows up, which is expected, but you never know when that will happen,” he said.
The kingdom is also wary of showing anything that might call into question its competence. Since the earthquake struck, state media have been focusing heavily on showing the military’s involvement in aid efforts.
Samira Sitail, a Moroccan journalist and former head of 2M, a state-run television channel, defended the king, saying some leaders “run their countries over Twitter and others differently.”
Morrococan leaders are also proud of the country’s airports, high-speed trains, highways and resorts, and sensitive about showing impoverished villages like the ones that were most heavily affected by the quake.
On Sunday, villages across the Atlas Mountains — even those just an hour or two from Marrakesh — were getting little or no official help. Ambulances were a rare sight, with most injured people who had been pulled from the wreckage being driven to Marrakesh hospitals by private car or motorcycle, if they made it at all.
Aurelien Breeden, Patrick Kingsley, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Nada Rashwan and Michael Levenson contributed reporting.