TAFEGHAGHTE, Morocco — Moroccan soldiers and aid teams in trucks and helicopters battled Monday to reach remote mountain towns devastated by a monstrous earthquake that killed nearly 2,500 people, the Associated Press reported.
The death toll from Friday’s earthquake has increased to at least 2,497 people, as of 10 a.m. local time (5 a.m. ET) on Monday, state media said. Another 2,476 people have been injured with survivors desperate for help to find loved ones feared trapped under the rubble.
The disaster killed 1,452 people in Al Houz region, 764 in Taroudant, 202 in Chichaoua, 41 in Ouarzazate, 18 in Marrakech, 11 in Azilal, five in Agadir, three in Casablanca province, and one person in Youssoufia province.
Moroccan officials have so far accepted government-offered aid from just four countries — Spain, Qatar, Britain and the United Arab Emirates — and some foreign aid teams said they were awaiting permission to deploy. Officials want to avoid a lack of coordination that “would be counterproductive,” the ministry said.
The destruction of roads into remote villages are hindering efforts by Moroccan authorities to direct aid to some of the country’s hardest-hit regions, a Moroccan government official told CNN.
“The rescue efforts are ongoing to reach the difficult areas. The earthquake struck mountainous areas that are scattered geographically and it’s difficult to reach these areas in some cases,” the official said.
Authorities are using helicopters to reach the worst-hit areas and machinery to remove the rubble from the impassable roads, the official added.
Efforts are primarily focused on rescuing injured people and reaching those who may still be in the rubble in the mountainous regions. Triage field hospitals are in the process of being built, according to the official.
“There is an effort to build field hospitals near the villages affected to bring those injured and administer first aid before they are sent onwards to hospitals,” the official added.
The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people were affected by the magnitude 6.8 quake, made more dangerous by its relatively shallow depth.
Most of the destruction and deaths were in Al Haouz province in the High Atlas Mountains, where homes folded in on themselves and steep, winding roads became clogged with rubble. Residents sometimes cleared away rocks themselves.
People cheered when trucks full of soldiers arrived Sunday in the town of Amizmiz. But they pleaded for more help.
“It’s a catastrophe,’’ said survivor Salah Ancheu in the town where mountainside homes and a mosque’s minaret collapsed.
“We don’t know what the future is. The aid remains insufficient,” the 28-year-old said.
Army units deployed Monday along a paved road leading from Amizmiz to remoter mountain villages. State news agency MAP reported that bulldozers and other equipment were being used to clear the routes. Tourists and residents lined up to give blood. In some villages, people wept as boys and helmet-clad police carried the dead through streets.
Aid offers poured in from around the world. About 100 teams made up of a total of 3,500 rescuers are registered with a UN platform and ready to deploy in Morocco when asked, Rescuers Without Borders said.
A Spanish search-and-rescue team arrived in Marrakech and headed to the rural Talat N’Yaaqoub, according to Spain’s Emergency Military Unit. Britain sent a 60-person search team with four dogs, medical staff, listening devices and concrete-cutting gear.
But other aid teams overseas that were poised to deploy expressed frustration that they couldn’t step in without government approval. Germany had a team of more than 50 rescuers waiting near Cologne-Bonn Airport but sent them home, news agency dpa reported.
The Czech Republic said it had a team of 70 rescuers ready to go and is waiting for permission to take off.
France, which has many ties to Morocco and said four of its citizens died in the quake, said Monday that authorities in the North African country are evaluating proposals on a case-by-case basis.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said Morocco is “the master of its choices, which must be respected.” She announced 5 million euros ($5.4 million) in emergency funds for Moroccan and international non-governmental groups rushing to help survivors. French towns and cities have offered more than 2 million euros ($2.1 million) in aid, and popular performers are also collecting donations.
Those left homeless — or fearing more aftershocks — have slept outside in the streets of the ancient city of Marrakech or under makeshift canopies in devastated Atlas Mountain towns like Moulay Brahim.
”I was asleep when the earthquake struck. I could not escape because the roof fell on me. I was trapped. I was saved by my neighbors who cleared the rubble with their bare hands,” said Fatna Bechar. “Now, I am living with them in their house because mine was completely destroyed.”
The quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 and hit at 11:11 p.m. Friday, the USGS said. It was North African country’s strongest quake in over 120 years, and it toppled buildings in regions where many are constructed with bricks made of mud. A total of 2,497 people were confirmed dead and at least 2,476 others were injured, the Interior Ministry reported.
Aftershocks have since hit the zone, rattling nerves in areas where damage has left buildings unstable.
Morocco’s deadliest quake was a magnitude 5.8 temblor in 1960 that struck near the city of Agadir, killing at least 12,000. It prompted Morocco to change construction rules, but many buildings, especially rural homes, are not built to withstand such tremors.
Flags were lowered across Morocco, as King Mohammed VI ordered three days of national mourning starting Sunday. But there was little time for mourning as survivors tried to salvage anything from damaged homes. ——Agencies