NPR: Devastating Earthquake in Morocco Causes Extensive Destruction to Mountainous Adobe Village
Souad Ait Hmad el Haych (left), 25, grieves as the body of her cousin is buried in Imi N’Tala, Morocco, on Sept. 13.
IMI N’TALA, Morocco — One of the villages hardest hit by Morocco’s recent earthquake was also one of its most iconic. Nestled below a cliff in the Atlas Mountains, Imi N’Tala was renowned among tourists and trekkers who ventured to the remote region for its natural beauty and a dose of Berber culture. But Imi N’Tala is no more. Part of the cliff was sheared off onto the village and its adobe houses are a pile of rubble after the 6.8 magnitude earthquake shook the area on Sept. 8, causing mass death in mountain villages like this one close to the epicenter. The official death toll from the disaster in Morocco has climbed to nearly 3,000 people.
Civil protection and rescue workers who had been digging out a body from the rubble of a devastating earthquake run in panic during an aftershock in Imi N’Tala, Morocco, on Sept. 13.
After hours of digging, rescue teams and civil protection members lift the body of an earthquake victim in Imi N’Tala, Morocco, on Sept. 13.
Rescue teams and civil protection members pray as a body is buried in Imi N’Tala, Morocco, on Sept. 13.
The few residents of Imi N’Tala who survived the quake now stay in white tents set up by the authorities on the hillside below their former homes. And the destruction — and aftershocks — have made rescue and recovery efforts difficult. Fifty-eight-year-old Brahim Ait Ougadir made it out with his two children. He said they were lucky to be in a part of their house that had no roof and was open to the sky. He broke down talking about what life in Imi N’Tala used to be. “This was a very safe and generous village,” he said. “We were all living together. Foreigners came here from all over the world to eat and sleep here for a few days. Nobody’s ever been harmed here.”
The day last week NPR visited there were rescue teams with sniffer dogs scrambling over the rocks. “There’s no life here,” said Dutch rescue worker Saad Attia. His team came with sniffer dogs trained to look for people who were still alive. Other teams had cadaver dogs that seek out corpses, which were the ones working at this site. “You can smell the death here,” Attia said. “You don’t even need a dog to tell you there are no survivors. But it’s good to have the dogs to isolate where the bodies are and show the rescue workers where they should dig.”
Walking wounded residents wait as rescue teams and civil protection members search the rubble for bodies of victims that perished in the devastating earthquake in Imi N’Tala, Morocco, on Sept. 13.
Homes were reduced to rubble in the devastating earthquake in Imi N’Tala, Morocco, on Sept. 12.
Survivors of the devastating earthquake shelter in tents and receive humanitarian aid in Imi N’Tala, Morocco, on Sept. 14.
Moroccan rescue teams were busy digging at two sites. The bodies were deep below the rocks, debris, and soil, and the difficult work went on for hours under a blistering sun. Buildings in this area including houses, a hostel, and a restaurant were all made of mud earth bricks and stones. Some were a couple of stories high. “Adobe has excellent thermal properties,” said Mehrdad Sasani, a structural engineering professor at Northeastern University. “It keeps houses warm in winter and cool in summer, but when it crushes, it becomes like soil and powder, filling in all the spaces, so there are no air pockets for people to survive.” The earthquake struck around 11 p.m., so many people were inside in bed. As workers tried to pull out the body of a woman from the rubble, they strung up a blanket around the dig site to protect her privacy.
Rescue teams and civil protection members search the rubble for bodies of victims that perished in the devastating earthquake in Imi N’Tala, Morocco, on Sept. 13.
Rescue teams bring the body of an earthquake victim they have spent hours freeing from the rubble, off the mountain in Imi N’Tala, Morocco, on Sept. 13.
A member of the Moroccan civil protection takes a break after hours of digging under the hot sun to try to recover the bodies of earthquake victims in Imi N’Tala, Morocco, on Sept. 13.
As the work stretched on, a few onlookers perched precariously on surrounding rocks and rubble. One man who villagers said was the woman’s son clung to the top of a slanted slab of fallen sandstone, painfully watching the workers toil to extract his mother from the rubble. After hours of digging, they pulled the woman’s body out and immediately placed it in a body bag. Seven rescuers carried her down the mountainside — almost like pallbearers.