IMI N’TALA, Morocco (AP) — The stench of death permeated the village of Imi N’Tala high up in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, just four days after a devastating earthquake struck. The quake had shattered the mountain, claiming lives and reducing the hamlet to rubble.
Bulldozers, rescue crews, and first responders from Morocco tirelessly worked day and night, striving to dig through the ruins and locate the eight to ten bodies still trapped beneath the debris.
Survivor Ait Ougadir Al Houcine, amidst the recovery efforts to find his sister’s body, lamented, “The mountain split in half and started collapsing. Houses were completely destroyed. Some people lost everything, including their livestock. We are left with only the clothes on our backs. Everything is gone.”
The scene in Imi N’Tala, primarily inhabited by herders and farmers, echoes the devastation witnessed in numerous towns along the perilous mountain roads south of Marrakech. Men in donated djellabas arrange rugs on the dusty ground, searching for open spaces and solid ground to pray. The sound of braying donkeys accompanies the sight of people covering their noses to shield themselves from the putrid odor of decomposing bodies.
The death toll continues to rise as more remote villages are reached, bodies are recovered, and survivors are transported to hospitals. Moroccan authorities have reported 2,901 deaths as of Tuesday, with an estimated 300,000 people affected by the magnitude 6.8 quake on Friday night.
However, a change is perceptible compared to the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. In Marrakech, located 38 miles (62 kilometers) to the north, King Mohammed VI is visiting a hospital and donating blood. In Imi N’Tala, as well as in nearby Anougal, Imi N’Isli, and Igourdane, aid has finally arrived. Partially paved roads are lined with white and yellow tents, while pyramids of water bottles and milk cartons are stacked nearby. Moroccans from larger cities bring clay tagine pots and bags of food aid to the region.
Camera crews from France, Spain, and Qatar’s Al Jazeera have set up on the scene, documenting the efforts of Moroccan emergency responders along with teams from Qatar, Spain, and international non-governmental organizations. They work together to jackhammer through rocks in order to recover bodies trapped beneath unstable structures.
Patrick Villadry, a member of the French rescue crew ULIS, explains that the victims in Imi N’Tala were likely unable to survive due to the construction of homes using mud bricks, which left little space for ventilation. He states, “When we dig, our primary focus is finding survivors. Once that hope is gone, we proceed with our recovery efforts. Recovering the deceased is crucial for the families in Morocco.”
Following the earthquake, Morocco has limited the amount of aid allowed into the country, only accepting assistance from Spain, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, along with non-governmental organizations. Villadry’s team from Nice, consisting of five members and four dogs, is one of the few French NGOs that successfully reached the site. They arrived on Saturday, the day after the earthquake.
Although the government has claimed that poorly coordinated aid “would be counterproductive,” many Moroccans, including Brahim Ait Blasri, remain skeptical as they watch the recovery efforts unfold. Ait Blasri expresses, “It’s not true. It’s politics.” He criticizes Morocco’s decision to decline aid from countries like the United States and France, believing that pride should be set aside in such dire circumstances.
Associated Press writers John Leicester and Elaine Ganley in Paris and Mark Carlson in Imi N’Tala contributed to this report.
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