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Morocco survivors seek aid as quake toll of 2,012 seen likely to rise

MOULAY BRAHIM, Morocco — Survivors of Morocco's deadliest earthquake in more than six decades struggled to find food and water on Sunday as the search for the missing continued in hard-to-reach villages and the death toll of more than 2,000 seemed likely to rise further.

Many people spent a second night in the open after the 6.8 magnitude quake hit late on Friday. Relief workers face the challenge of reaching the worst-affected villages in the High Atlas, a rugged mountain range where settlements are often remote and where many houses crumbled.

Moroccan media reported the collapse of a historically important 12th century mosque, underlining damage to the country's cultural heritage. The quake also damaged parts of Marrakech old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In Moulay Brahim, a village near the epicenter 40 km (25 miles) south of Marrakech, residents described how they had dug the dead from the rubble using their bare hands.

"We lost our houses and we lost people also and we are sleeping like two days outside," said 36-year-old Yassin Noumghar, a Moulay Brahim resident. Complaining of shortages of water, food and power, Noumghar said he had received little government aid so far. "We want just for our government to help us," he said, expressing a frustration voiced by others.

Later, sacks of food were unloaded from a truck which local official Mouhamad al-Hayyan said had been organized by the government and civil society organizations.

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 some first aid supplies.

With many homes built of mud bricks and timber, structures in the area crumbled easily. It was Morocco's deadliest earthquake since 1960 when a quake was estimated to have killed at least 12,000 people, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Makeshift tents had been erected on a dirt soccer pitch.

Residents were wrapped in blankets after spending the night outside. One man, who was salvaging mattresses and clothes from his wrecked home, said he believed his neighbors were still under the rubble.

In the village of Amizmiz, 27 km (17 miles) west of Moulay Brahim, residents also struggled to find food. "We used blankets to make a tent," said Ali Ait Youssef. "The tents the government distributed are not enough."

The government said on Saturday it was taking urgent measures to address the disaster including reinforcing search and rescue teams, providing drinking water and distributing food, tents and blankets.

France said it stood ready to help and was awaiting a formal request from Morocco. "France is ready to offer its aid to Morocco if Morocco decides it is useful," President Emmanuel Macron said at the G20 Summit in New Delhi.

"The second they request this aid, it will be deployed," he added.

Other countries offering assistance include Turkey, where earthquakes in February killed more than 50,000 people. By Sunday, the Turkish team had not yet departed.

Spain, however, 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.

"The next 2-3 days will be critical for finding people trapped under the rubble," Caroline Holt, global director of operations for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told Reuters.

She said the international aid system has been waiting for an invitation from Morocco to assist, adding this was not necessarily unusual as the government assesses needs.

A spokesperson for Morocco's government did not immediately respond to Reuters phone calls seeking comment.

Prayers for the dead

The latest casualty figures from the Interior Ministry, released late on Saturday, put the death toll at 2,012, with 2,059 people injured, including 1,404 in critical condition.

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

Pope Francis offered prayers and solidarity for the victims.

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.

The quake's epicenter was 72 km (45 miles) southwest of Marrakech, a city beloved of Moroccans and foreign tourists for its medieval mosques, palaces and seminaries richly adorned with vivid mosaic tiling amid a labyrinth of rose-hued alleyways.

Marrakech is due to host the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank from Oct. 9.

An IMF spokesperson, asked on Saturday about the planned meetings, said: “Our sole focus at this time is on the people of Morocco and the authorities who are dealing with this tragedy.” — Reuters