In Wake of Morocco Earthquake, Frustration Fuels Solidarity

The line of eight vehicles made its way along the dirt road shuttling loaves of bread, folded sweaters, antibiotics and a warm sense of solidarity to the broken mountain.

An hour up the road into the Atlas Mountains from Taroudant, the capital of the province of the same name, the caravan came to stop in a darkened village, its flashing hazard lights against the black sky an offer of help to residents largely on their own since an earthquake struck this remote region of Morocco on Friday night.

The volunteers had been driving all day from their homes in distant cities. Pulling out flashlights and attaching headlamps in the village of Douar Bousguine, the motley group clambered over mounds of rubble, peeked at long cracks along walls and bent to assess a spot where neighbors had dug out a 32-year-old man and his six children, who had been eating dinner when the earthquake struck.

They survived, but their home was destroyed, their wooden front door propped up against a jumbled pile of mud bricks and broken wood.

Residents, supplemented by volunteers, have led much of the rescue effort in these remote areas in the days since an earthquake in Morocco killed more than 2,900 people and injured more than 5,500, according to the latest figures released by the Interior Ministry on Tuesday. It was the strongest quake to hit the area in more than a century.

As the days pass, the initial shock has turned into a quiet anger against the government’s slow response to accept foreign aid and rescue teams. But in a country where criticism of the king can herald serious consequences, perhaps the loudest expression of protest is action as people across Morocco come to help those in need.

Mosa’ab Mtahhaf, a medical student, helping an injured woman in Douar Bousguine whose home was damaged. He said that when he arrived, villagers had already taken their badly injured neighbors to the hospital.Credit…Nariman El-Mofty for The New York Times

Moroccan talk radio has brimmed with stories of local residents traveling into the mountains, carrying even portable bread makers, to deliver supplies and hope to tearful locals who also called in.

Lists of villages in dire need have circulated on social media, along with messages offering supplies: “Twenty inflatable mattresses, ready to go from Marrakesh if you know where they will be most useful.”

One gas station in the province was jammed with cars and trucks, all stuffed with supplies to take into the mountains. It has been that way since Saturday, after the earthquake struck, the local workers said with admiration. “People from all over Morocco have come to help,” Said Boukhlik said.

The owner of a hotel in the coastal city of Agadir sent a 16-wheel truck loaded with 200 mattresses and an assortment of pickup trucks bearing 200 blankets, Turkish carpets, thick tarps and metal frames with which to build temporary shelters.

“They have nothing,” said Abderrahim Aberni, a hotel employee who normally drives tourists to a mountainside desert for horse trips and is now overseeing an aid trip.

Weaving past the remnants of former adobe homes, now heaps of rubble, traffic on one of the roads up the Atlas Mountains was clogged to a standstill in places. The drivers of giant trucks towing a bulldozer and a digger sounded their horns in frustration.

“Ideally, you would have had a coordinated government response that would be quick enough to manage it in more large scale and sufficient manner,” said Moritz Schmoll, an assistant professor in political science at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Rabat, who spent two days driving to villages with his partner, delivering food and water.

The damaged home of a man in the village who was pulled out of the rubble and survived. Volunteers entering the area found residents shaken but often filled with warmth.Credit…Nariman El-Mofty for The New York Times

The roads were so poorly maintained, and the villages so scattered, that “even wealthier countries would struggle” to organize an emergency assistance plan, he said. Local residents in cars could reach places more easily than big trucks could, he noted. Still, “I hope there will be better coordination of the help,” he said.

The volunteers were often driven by a sense of purpose, heading deeper into remote places in Taroudant Province, where professional help had yet to arrive in some parts of the vast region.

“We just wanted to help people,” explained Mehdi Ayassi, who was holding up his cellphone as a makeshift surgical light. Mr. Ayassi, 22, had quit his job at a Marrakesh hotel to aid in the rescue efforts with his friends. He said the earthquake, and the tragedy that has followed, made him realize that he wanted to do something else with his life.

They found residents shaken by tragedy but also often filled with warmth.

In Douar Bousguine, people shook hands and introduced themselves to the caravan of volunteers. A donkey brayed in the distance. The ambience was strangely festive, with local residents saying they were relieved someone was helping and the volunteers happy to have found a place to pour their empathy into.

“I went expecting misery,” said Yves Le Gall, a French owner of a hotel inside the 500-year-old fortifications of the provincial capital, who spent five hours carrying loaves of bread and bananas up to villages in the nearby Atlas Mountains where he normally sends his guests for hikes. “But I found Moroccan solidarity.”

Girls in the village took shelter on Monday after their homes were damaged.Credit…Nariman El-Mofty for The New York Times

At a clearing in the village, the volunteers met 15 women seated in a makeshift communal bedroom — woven plastic mats spread over the dirt, an overhead tarp held up by a long stick. Some wore fluffy bathrobes over their gowns, called djellabas.

“We lost everything,” said Khaddouj Boukrim, 46, who greeted the visitors with a warm handshake and a smile despite the crisis. “It’s very cold. We don’t have mattresses.”

A medical student from Marrakesh in the group, dressed in navy scrubs, snapped on blue latex gloves and looked through the cardboard box brimming with medical supplies that he had brought. He treated a pregnant woman’s infected finger and a young mother’s swollen bruise. It was clear his team was offering more than medical help.

Mosa’ab Mtahhaf, the medical student, said he had come prepared for open wounds and broken bones but found mostly long-term ailments to treat. Villagers had already taken their badly injured neighbors to the hospital.

The hope of the volunteers’ journey was tempered by deep frustration about the long road to recovery and the many uncertainties along the way.

“These people were already poor. Now, they have nothing,” said Yousef Errouggeh, 29, a cook in a Paris restaurant who was back in his childhood village to help. “They don’t need food. They need someone to rebuild their houses. How will they sleep when the rain comes?”

He continued: “The situation is really bad. Everyone we’ve seen here is a fellow citizen, not the government.”

Mr. Ayassi and his friends agreed that they would continue up the mountain to find other villages, perhaps ones harder hit. They had no idea where they would sleep that night. Nor, really, when they would go home.

“When all our supplies are gone,” he said.

Damaged homes in the village. Volunteers’ hope was tempered by deep frustration about the long road to recovery.Credit…Nariman El-Mofty for The New York Times

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