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Mountain villages sunk in grief

As we rounded the final bend of the winding road and reached the Moroccan mountain village of Moulay Brahim, it was immediately clear that we had arrived in a community plunged into grief by Friday evening’s deadly earthquake.

An older woman staggered toward us, wailing, tears streaming down her face, as she held her head in her hands.

A few yards away, a group of young men were sobbing. They had just discovered that their friend was among the dead.

“There have been so many deaths today,” one of the men said.

“And our friend, he was crushed. We buried him today and he was so young.”

Another man, Mohamed – who is helping organize this impromptu response – revealed that 16 people had been buried in this village alone after being recovered from the rubble on Saturday. Two more victims will be buried on Sunday.

“We’ve been working every minute since it happened. Non-stop since then,” he said. “There are only about ten people working here and we are trying to find people in the buildings. It is desperate.”

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Some hope was provided moments later when members of the Red Crescent arrived. But this is a disaster that requires a significantly larger and coordinated response.

“We have nothing here,” Mohamed said. ‘And we need everything. Food, medicine, shelter.”

This scene of destruction and despair plays out in many parts of the High Atlas Mountains.

Our 90-minute zigzag drive from Marrakech to the remote mountainside was extended by boulders and rocks that lined the route and obscured our path.

Broken and blocked roads have seriously hampered rescue efforts. Teams are spreading out from key cities – particularly Marrakech – to try to reach the hardest-hit areas in the hope of pulling survivors from the rubble.

During our journey, a procession of ambulances raced past us, further into the unknown. Aerial images have given us an idea of ​​what awaits these emergency services, but it is still too early to gauge how many people have lost their lives.

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If miracles are to happen in the coming hours, heavy lifting equipment will be needed. Not only in Moulay Brahim, but in many places. Hands and hammers can only do so much.

Back in Marrakech, thousands of people spent a second night in the open air. Roundabouts, parking garages and a public square are filled with figures of all ages, wrapped in blankets.

Few, however, seem to sleep – at least not well. Being in the relative safety of the outside world doesn’t take away the fear of what another quake might do.

Rubble litters many streets of this historic city, although Marrakech has fared better than the mountainous areas of the southwest.

Restaurant owner Safa El Hakym is trying to assess the damage.

“Thank God, only the walls and materials are gone,” she says. ‘The most important things are not lost.

“And thank God we have the strength of humanity in Morocco: we are all together and putting our hearts into this and helping each other.”

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Additional reporting by Kathy Long.

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