TAFEGHAGHTE, Morocco (AP) — His dead relatives have been dug up and buried, but the remains of Musa Bouissirfane’s former life are still trapped under rubble and dust in the ruins of the Moroccan mud-brick village of Tafeghaghte.
“It is an incredible challenge to lose all your family and all your possessions,” Bouissirfane said as tears welled in his eyes in the community, less than two hours’ drive from Marrakech. “We lost everything – our houses, our livestock and all our possessions.”
Less than a week ago, he was excited that his daughter was starting second grade. Now he mourns her death. Far from ambulances and authorities, the villagers were only able to recover her body on Saturday afternoon, i.e. over 14 hours. Bouissirfane’s mother and father as well as a niece also died in the earthquake. His wife is in the intensive care unit.
The toll of the massive earthquake The accident, which killed more than 2,800 people, was clearly visible on Monday in remote villages such as Tafeghaghte, where more than half of the 160 residents are believed to have died, including the four members of Bouissirfane’s family.
Bouissirfane worked with other survivors to clear debris and recover the dead. They toiled in a scene of horror: bulldozers digging through dust and rubble in the hope of finding a body. The air in parts of the village was filled with the stench of dead cattle. People warned each other not to go near the few buildings that were still standing because they looked like they could collapse at any moment.
“God save us,” said Khadija Babamou, a resident of nearby Amizmiz who came to Tafeghaghte to check on her relatives. As her gaze swept over the remains of the village, she covered her mouth and began to cry, clutching her sister.
Also on Monday, Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch met with King Mohammed VI. and delivered his first public remarks since the earthquake. The prime minister said the North African country was committed to financing reconstruction.
Although Tafeghaghte has received food and water, it still needs much more.
“The residents lack the means to buy even a single brick,” said Bouissirfane, who lives in a tent with only change in his pocket.
Efforts in Tafeghaghte mirrored efforts across the disaster area, as Moroccan soldiers, non-governmental organizations and teams from Spain, Qatar, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates arrived to assist with rescue efforts and immediate needs.
So far, Moroccan officials have accepted State aid by recognized non-governmental organizations and only four countries – Spain, Qatar, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. Officials say they want to avoid a lack of coordination that “would be counterproductive.”
This approach differs from that of the Turkish government, which made an international appeal for help in the hours after a massive quake earlier this year.
The head of one of several rescue teams waiting across Europe said Moroccan authorities could recall the chaos that unfolded after a smaller quake in 2004, when international teams rushed through the airport and damaged roads to those most affected Areas flooded.
Arnaud Fraisse, founder of Rescuers Without Borders, told the Associated Press he was withdrawing the organization’s offer to send nine people to Morocco because “our job is not to find bodies.”
Homes crumbled into dust and rubble, choking the air pockets that could allow some people to survive under rubble for days.
“People generally suffocate from the dust,” Fraisse said.
The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people were affected by the magnitude 6.8 quake, which was even more dangerous because of its relatively shallow depth.
Most of the destruction and deaths occurred in Al Haouz province in the High Atlas Mountains, where steep and winding roads were clogged with debris and villagers were left to fend for themselves.
Ibrahim Wahdouch lost two young daughters and two other family members. He said Tafeghaghte resembled a war zone.
“There’s no shooting, but look around,” he said.
Those left homeless – or out of fear of further aftershocks – have been sleeping outside on the streets of the ancient city of Marrakech or under makeshift canopies in devastated cities like Marrakesh Moulay Brahim.
State news agency MAP reported that bulldozers and other equipment were being used to clear routes. Tourists and residents lined up to donate blood. In some villages, people wept as boys and helmet-clad police carried the dead through the streets.
With government permission, Morocco could have received more aid quickly. Fraisse said about 100 rescue teams – with a total of about 3,000 rescuers – were registered with the United Nations to help.
“It is their responsibility. They can do whatever they want,” Fraisse said, referring to the Moroccan authorities. “You didn’t call. That is why today we think that it is no longer necessary for us to go there because we will not do an effective job.”
A Spanish search and rescue team arrived in Marrakesh and headed to the rural town of Talat N’Yaaqoub, the Spanish emergency unit said. Britain sent a 60-strong search team with four dogs, medical staff, listening devices and concrete-cutting equipment.
France, which has many ties to Morocco and which left at least four of its citizens dead, said Moroccan authorities would consider proposals on a case-by-case basis.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said Morocco is “the master of its decisions, which must be respected.” It announced 5 million euros ($5.4 million) in emergency funding for Moroccan and international non-governmental groups helping survivors.
French cities and towns have committed more than 2 million euros ($2.1 million) in aid, and popular artists are raising funds.
According to the US Geological Survey, the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8. A total of 2,681 people were confirmed dead, almost 1,600 of them from the hardest-hit province of Al Haouz, the Moroccan Interior Ministry reported.
Almost all of the dead have already been buried, the government said. More than 2,500 people were injured.
The worst earthquake in Morocco was a magnitude 5.8 quake near the city of Agadir in 1960 that killed at least 12,000 people. This prompted Morocco to change building regulations, but many buildings, especially country houses, are not built to withstand such shocks.
Associated Press journalists Mark Carlson in Tafeghaghte, Morocco; Houda Benalla in Rabat, Morocco; John Leicester, Angela Charlton, Elaine Ganley in Paris; Jill Lawless in London; Karel Janicek in Prague; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.