A magnitude 3.9 aftershock shook Moroccans on Sunday even as rescuers worked to find survivors in the mounds of rubble left in villages from the powerful earthquake that struck Friday night, killing more than 2,100 people.
The United Nations estimated that 300,000 people were affected by the magnitude 6.8 quake, the country’s most powerful in a century. Rescue efforts were slow, and some Moroccans complained on social networks that the government wasn’t allowing more rescue workers into the country to help.
"We know there is a great urgency to save people and dig under the remains of buildings," said Arnaud Fraisse, founder of Rescuers Without Borders, who had a team stuck in Paris waiting for approval to go to Morocco. "There are people dying under the rubble, and we cannot do anything to save them."
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN that the U.S. “reached out immediately” to Morocco to help in the rescue effort. “We’re ready to go,” he said.
Neighbors were still searching for survivors buried on the slopes of the High Atlas Mountains, where houses of mud brick, stone and rough wood were cracked open. Mosque minarets were toppled and the historic old city of Marrakech also suffered extensive damage.
The earthquake on Friday felled buildings not built to withstand such a mighty force, trapping people in the rubble and sending others fleeing in terror.
"We felt a huge shake like it was doomsday," Moulay Brahim resident Ayoub Toudite told The Associated Press. "Ten seconds and everything was gone." Tremors were felt as far away as Huelva and Jaen in southern Spain.
The interior ministry said 2,122 people had been killed and 2,421 injured, including 1,404 in critical condition. The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter of the quake was 72 kilometers southwest of Marrakech.
Those left homeless by the quake’s destruction slept outside Saturday in the streets of Marrakech or under makeshift canopies in Atlas Mountain towns like Moulay Brahim that were among the hardest hit.
King Mohammed VI ordered three days of national mourning starting Sunday as flags were lowered across the country. The army mobilized specialized search and rescue teams, and the king ordered water, food rations and shelter to be provided to those who lost their homes.
The king called for mosques across the kingdom to hold prayers Sunday for the victims, many of whom were buried Saturday amid the frenzy of rescue work nearby.
Rescues picked through rubble with their bare hands in the village of Amizmiz near the epicenter. Fallen masonry blocked narrow streets. Outside a hospital, around 10 bodies lay covered in blankets as grieving relatives stood nearby.
"When I felt the earth shaking beneath my feet and the house leaning, I rushed to get my kids out. But my neighbors couldn’t," Mohamed Azaw told the Reuters news agency. "Unfortunately, no one was found alive in that family. The father and son were found dead and they are still looking for the mother and the daughter."
Rescuers stood atop the pancaked floors of one building in Amizmiz, bits of carpet and furniture protruding from the rubble. A long queue formed outside the only open shop as people sought supplies. Underlining the challenges facing rescuers, fallen boulders blocked a road from Amizmiz to a nearby village.
Nearly all the houses in the area of Asni, about 40 kilometers south of Marrakech, were damaged, and villagers were preparing to spend the night outside. Food was in short supply as roofs had collapsed on kitchens, said villager Mohamed Ouhammo.
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Street camera footage in Marrakech showed the moment the earth began to shake, as men suddenly looked around and jumped up, and others ran for shelter into an alleyway and then fled as dust and debris tumbled around them.
The quake was recorded at 18.5 kilometers, a relatively shallow depth and typically more destructive than deeper quakes of the same magnitude. 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.
Mohammad Kashani is an associate professor of structural and earthquake engineering at the University of Southampton in Britain. Kashani compared scenes of the aftermath to images from Turkey, where a massive earthquake in February left more than 50,000 people dead.
"The area is full of old and historical buildings, which are mainly masonry. The collapsed reinforced concrete structures that I saw ... were either old or substandard," Kashani said.