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Morocco earthquake: Race against time to reach survivors as confirmed death toll hits 2,800

Morocco earthquake: Race against time to reach survivors as confirmed death toll hits 2,800

Rescuers were continuing to search for survivors in the rubble of building on Monday evening more than 48 hours after the devastating earthquake in Morocco.

Villagers wept for lost relatives in the rubble of their homes as the death toll from the country’s deadliest earthquake in more than six decades rose to more than 2,800.

Search teams from Spain and Britain were joining efforts to find survivors of the 6.8 magnitude quake that struck late on Friday night 45 miles southwest of Marrakech.

Locals dug by hand and shovel to find people trapped in remote areas, as response teams struggled to bring in machinery.

Fallen rocks partially blocked already poorly-maintained roads into the High Atlas Mountains, where many of the worst-affected areas lie.

Many survivors spent a third night outside, their homes destroyed or rendered unsafe by the earthquake, the country’s deadliest for more than 60 years,

The death toll climbed to at least 2,497 on Monday, according to the state news agency. Thousands more are injured.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI declared three days of national mourning on Saturday, as the scale of the devastation became clearer.

The royal palace said civil protection units had been deployed to increase stocks in blood banks, water, food, tents and blankets.

But it conceded that some of the worst-affected areas were so remote that it was impossible to reach them in the hours after the quake - the most crucial period for many of the injured.

The UK has deployed 60 search and rescue specialists to assist the country’s efforts to find survivors, the Ministry of Defence said on Sunday evening.

Four dogs, rescue equipment and a medical assessment team have also been sent, along with two Royal Air Force aircraft from the Ministry of Defence.

Grant Shapps, the newly appointed defence secretary, has described the earthquake as a “devastating time for the people of Morocco”.

UK aid on its way  to Morocco
UK aid on its way to Morocco

“The UK has taken a leading role in the international effort to enhance search and rescue operations - moving quickly to deploy our unique strategic airlift capabilities, expert personnel and aid.

“We stand firmly by Morocco as they get through this terrible event.”

The World Health Organization said more than 300,000 people have been affected by the disaster.

A seismological expert has warned aftershocks could last for “days or weeks” as a magnitude 3.9 aftershock quake hit Morocco on Sunday, according to the US Geological Survey.

Members of the Spanish Military Emergency Unit (UME) on their way to help rescue efforts in Morocco (UME/AFP via Getty Images)
Members of the Spanish Military Emergency Unit (UME) on their way to help rescue efforts in Morocco (UME/AFP via Getty Images)

In Moulay Brahim, a small rural town near the centre of Morocco, villagers have started burying their dead. Women were seen crying as they held a funeral for two victims.

Residents described how they dug the dead from the rubble using their bare hands.

Twenty-five bodies had been brought to Moulay Brahim’s small medical clinic, according to staff there who warned they were starting to face a shortage of first aid supplies.

“We lost our houses and we lost people also and we are sleeping like two days outside,” resident Yassin Noumghar told Reuters.

Complaining of shortages of water, food and power, Mr Noumghar said he had received little government aid so far, expressing a frustration voiced in many villages.

“The next 24 to 48 hours will be critical in terms of saving lives,” Caroline Holt, global director of operations for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a statement.

“There are a lot of people still under the rubble. People are still searching for their parents,” Adeeni Mustafa, a resident from the Asni area, told Reuters, standing by a road partially blocked by boulders.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

Director of the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre Rémy Bossu told the BBC 20 aftershocks were felt, and there were “many more” that have not been felt.

“There will be others, it may last for days or weeks,” he warned.

Mr Bossu added: “In the mountains, people have to be very careful because the buildings may have been weakened by the previous shocks. So if there is any doubt, people should not go back to their houses.”

Morocco has declared three days of mourning and King Mohammed VI called for prayers for the dead to be held at mosques across the country on Sunday.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Pope Francis offered prayers and solidarity on Sunday for the victims of Morocco‘s deadliest earthquake in more than six decades.

“I pray for the injured, for those who have lost their lives, so many of them, and for their relatives,” he said, speaking to crowds in St Peter’s Square after delivering his Angelus message.

The quake’s epicentre was 72 km (45 miles) southwest of Marrakech, a city beloved of Moroccans and foreign tourists for its medieval mosques, palaces and seminaries.

Moroccan media reported the collapse of a historically important 12th century mosque. The quake also damaged parts of Marrakech old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Spain said it had on Sunday received a formal request from Morocco for assistance and would be sending search and rescue teams. Qatar also said its search and rescue team had departed for Morocco.