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Foreign rescuers join Morocco quake in race against time

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TALAT NYACOUB: Moroccan rescuers supported by newly-arrived foreign teams on Monday faced an intensifying race against time to dig out any survivors from the rubble of mountain villages, on the third day after the country’s strongest-ever earthquake.

The 6.8-magnitude quake struck the Atlas mountains late on Friday southwest of the tourist centre of Marrakesh. It killed almost 2,500 people and injured a similar number, according to the latest official toll.

In the disaster-stricken community of Talat Nyacoub, 12 ambulances and several dozen 4X4s from the army and police were deployed while around 100 Moroccan rescuers were searching for signs of life amid the collapsed buildings.

Nearby, rescue operations had a Spanish team of 30 firefighters, a doctor, nurse and two technicians coordinating with Moroccan authorities before starting to dig, as a helicopter flew overhead.

“The big difficulty is in zones remote and difficult to access, like here, but the injured are choppered out,” Annika Coll said, who heads the Spanish team.

About 70 kilometres north, another Spanish team from the Military Emergencies Unit (UME) had set up camp since Sunday night on the edge of Amizmiz village. Albert Vasquez, the unit’s communications officer, said his team was awaiting a meeting with Moroccan civil defence to determine exactly where they were needed.

The rescuers are assisted by four dogs and microcameras that can be fed into the rubble in an effort to detect signs of life.

The earthquake wiped out entire villages in the foothills of the Atlas mountains, where civilian rescuers and members of Morocco’s armed forces have searched for survivors and the bodies of the dead.

Many houses in remote mountain villages were built from mud bricks.

While the foreign teams begin to arrive, Moroccan authorities have erected emergency shelters. Bright yellow tents were visible along the road into Tikht, a village which has effectively ceased to exist.

Members of the government’s civil protection service carried camp beds from a military-type truck toward the tents.

Citizens reported to hospitals in Marrakesh and elsewhere to donate blood for the injured. Among the donors were members of Morocco’s national football team.

Other volunteers organised food and essential goods to help quake victims, after complaints that authorities were slow to respond.

The education ministry announced that school classes were “suspended” in the worst-hit villages of Al-Haouz province, the quake epicentre.

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva began its session on Monday with a minute’s silence for the quake victims. — AFP

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