Morocco: over 2,800 dead, Italians stranded on the Atlas returning


By John

And finally the family of Italian tourists who remained stranded in the Atlas Mountains is free to return home. They are in the car, lined up, behind the ambulances that have the right of way, on the road that takes them to Taroudant. Waiting for them, at the Tiz’n Test pass, is the Italian consul of Agadir, Antonella Bertoncello. The three Italians, father, mother and 15-year-old son, who arrived in Morocco on August 31st, have a return flight from Fes on September 14th.

There race against time it becomes more and more frenetic as the hours pass, looking for any survivors to the violent earthquake that hit central Morocco last Saturday. People dig through the rubble, even with their bare hands, while in some remote areas of the Atlas, help is slow to arrive. And King Muhammad VI still doesn’t show up: neither on TV, nor in the affected areas to show closeness to his subjects who almost cry 2,870 deaths, limiting himself to decreeing three days of national mourning and launching an appeal to prayer. There are 2,500 injured, and many are still waiting for treatment, but the destruction – especially in the province of Al Haouz, the epicenter of the earthquake – is such that the toll appears destined to rise further.

In this picture, the Rabat’s decision to accept aid only from 4 countries (Spain, Great Britain, United Arab Emirates and Qatar), while from the early hours the entire international community said it was ready to send humanitarian personnel and material, from experts in the search for people to basic necessities. Having returned from Paris – where he was on a private visit – a few hours after the deadly magnitude 7 earthquake, the king participated on Sunday – together with his twenty-year-old son, the future Hassan III – in a government crisis meeting, which ended with a statement and without any declaration to the nation. The Moroccan Interior Ministry then clarified that it had only accepted help from those four countries “at this specific stage”, justifying its decision with the fact that “a lack of coordination in such situations could be counterproductive”. However, Rabat explained, “as intervention operations progress, the assessment of possible needs could evolve, which would allow us to take advantage of offers presented by other friendly countries.”

However, the world is wondering about this delay in accepting aid while the affected Moroccans send out desperate emergency calls. AND especially the no to the hand extended by France seems to burn like a slap: the former French protectorate and Paris are at loggerheads, particularly since the Pegasus case broke out which allegedly revealed how Rabat intercepted President Emmanuel Macron’s phone calls through the Israeli system, against the backdrop of other crises such as that of the disputed Western Sahara. No EU country recognizes the independence of the Polisario Front, but Spain has recently softened its positions for the good of relations between the two sides of the Strait of Gibraltar. Paris has denied that there is a “dispute” between the two governments: the Foreign Minister, Catherine Colonna, has invited them to respect the decision of Morocco which is a “sovereign country”. And she reiterated that France “remains at the disposal” of the reign of Muhammad VI, with whom Macron had “contacts on several occasions”, and announced an allocation of 5 million euros to help the NGOs currently “on the spot”. The European Commission also released one million euros to “contribute to the most urgent needs of the population” and contacted member countries “for a possible mobilization of intervention teams”. But always “if Morocco deems it necessary”.

As well as Italyreiterated the Foreign Minister, Antonio Tajani, “is ready to help: initially with the availability of our Civil Protection, now also with material, tents, medicines”.

Meanwhile, NGOs and volunteers (including French) who do not belong to state entities are working on site. Like the Italian Roe (Emergency Operational Group), who with a team of 4 people reached Adassil, one of the mud and stone villages in the province of Chichaoua, south of Marrakech, razed to the ground by the earthquake, and then moved to Imindounit. “We have reached places where no help has arrived, there are still dead under the rubble and people trying to get them out on their own. When they saw us they threw themselves on our cars – said the president Cicchetti Marchegiani -. Here the people they are devoid of any assistance and no one had arrived.”

It is a wave of extraordinary solidarity that is overwhelming Morocco in these hours after the terrible earthquake that devastated the province of Al Haouz in particular. There are at least 165 villages and small towns that need help and the mobilization from the cities is impressive. At this point 18 national, provincial and regional roads have been reopened to circulation: these are the connecting roads between the disaster-stricken locations on the Atlas massif and the rest of the country which will allow rescuers to reach even the most inaccessible areas. Meanwhile in Marrakech the medina is regaining colour. It is the third day of national mourning and many shops are still closed, but people return to the alleys of the historic center, now almost completely cleared of rubble. “I take this opportunity to take an inventory – says Mohammed who sells souvenirs in the Mellah district -. Tomorrow I will reopen as usual. I am saddened by the tragedy, but I feel safer, my fear has gone away”. Sidi Souleiman, the elderly man who is the ‘lord of the cats’ in this neighborhood of the medina, has his house open, the facade has collapsed, the only one in the street, and the neighbors have competed to find him makeshift accommodation. From here, reaching the square is no longer a slalom through the rubble, the small excavators have transferred the debris to the clearing that was previously a car park, just outside the walls. In Jama el Fnaa square the scent of freshly squeezed oranges returns and in the late afternoon the noise of irons that anticipates the restaurateurs’ banquets returns. Smoke, sounds and colors: here is the navel of Marrakech. The places best known to tourists, the Riad Larouss district and the luxury shopping street, Dar el Basha, are once again accessible to motorbikes, which whiz past passers-by. Laarbi which sells caftans not far from Bad Laksour is open. “Allamdulillah (Thanking God), my family is well – he says – and I am here in my place like every day of my life”. Laarbi is the man who, among other things, contributed to enriching Marta Marzotto’s collection of traditional Moroccan clothing. Hollywood actors and international film stars have passed through his small shop. “Good times – he smiles, looking at the photos of him with famous clients – but let’s not complain, they will all come back to visit us”. The Ben Youssef Koranic school, recently restored, welcomes visitors, the other museums in the city will open their doors to tourists after inspections by the superintendence. In the new city, where no damage was reported, apart from small injuries in the Catholic church in the Hivernage neighbourhood, collections of clothes and food are being organised, which from now on will be easier to bring to the displaced people in the Atlas Mountains.