The line of eight vehicles rolled along the dirt road, carrying loaves of bread, folded sweaters, antibiotics and a warm sense of solidarity with the broken mountain.
An hour into the Atlas Mountains from Taroudant, the capital of the province of the same name, the caravan stopped in a darkened village, its warning lights flashing against the black sky an offer to help the residents who were largely on their own. since an earthquake struck this remote region of Morocco on Friday evening.
The volunteers drove all day from their homes in distant cities. The motley group pulled out flashlights and attached headlamps in the village of Douar Bousguine, clambered over piles of rubble, peered into long cracks along walls and bent over to assess a spot where neighbors had dug out a 32-year-old man and his six children. , who was eating when the earthquake struck.
They survived, but their house was destroyed, their wooden front door leaning against a jumbled pile of mud bricks and broken wood.
Residents, supplemented by volunteers, have led much of the rescue effort in these remote areas in the days since an earthquake in Morocco killed more than 2,900 people and injured more than 5,500, according to the latest figures released by the Interior Ministry released on Tuesday. It was the strongest earthquake to hit the area in more than a century.
As the days pass, the initial shock has turned into a quiet anger at the government’s slow response to accept foreign aid and rescue teams. But in a country where criticism of the king can herald dire consequences, perhaps the loudest expression of protest has been the actions of people across Morocco to help those in need.
Moroccan talk radio is filled with stories of locals who traveled into the mountains, even carrying portable bread machines, to deliver supplies and hope to the tearful locals who also passed by.
Lists of villages in dire need are circulating on social media, along with messages offering supplies: “Twenty inflatable mattresses, ready to take from Marrakech, if you know where they will be most useful.”
One gas station in the province was full of cars and trucks, all packed with supplies to take on the mountains. It has been that way since Saturday, after the earthquake struck, local workers said with admiration. “People from all over Morocco have come to help,” Boukhlik said.
The owner of a hotel in the coastal city of Agadir sent a 16-wheel truck loaded with 200 mattresses and an assortment of pickup trucks carrying 200 blankets, Turkish carpets, thick tarps and metal frames with which to build temporary shelters.
“They have nothing,” said Abderrahim Aberni, a hotel worker who normally takes tourists to a mountainside for horseback riding and is now overseeing an aid trip.
As we wound past the remains of former mud houses, now piles of rubble, traffic on one of the roads to the Atlas Mountains was backed up in places. The drivers of giant trucks towing a bulldozer and an excavator honked in frustration.
“Ideally you would have had a coordinated response from the government that would be fast enough to manage this on a larger scale and in an adequate way,” said Moritz Schmoll, assistant professor of political science at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Rabat, who spent two days. driving with his partner to villages to deliver food and water.
The roads were so poorly maintained and the villages so spread out that “even richer countries would struggle” to put together an emergency response plan, he said. Locals in cars could reach places more easily than large trucks, he noted. Still, “I hope there will be better coordination of aid,” he said.
Often driven by a sense of purpose, the volunteers trekked deeper into remote places in Taroudant province, where professional help had yet to arrive in some parts of the vast region.
“We just wanted to help people,” explained Mehdi Ayassi, who held up his cell phone as a makeshift operating light. Mr Ayassi, 22, had quit his job at a hotel in Marrakech to help with the rescue efforts with his friends. He said the earthquake and the tragedy that followed made him realize he wanted to do something different with his life.
They found residents shocked by the tragedy, but often filled with warmth.
In Douar Bousguine, people shook hands and introduced themselves to the caravan of volunteers. In the distance a donkey brayed. The atmosphere was strangely festive, with locals saying they were relieved that someone was helping and volunteers happy to have found a place where they could express their empathy.
“I expected misery,” said Yves Le Gall, a French owner of a hotel in the 500-year-old fortifications of the provincial capital, who spent five hours carrying loaves of bread and bananas to villages in the nearby Atlas Mountains. normally he sends his guests on walks. “But I have found Moroccan solidarity.”
In a clearing in the village, the volunteers met fifteen women sitting in a makeshift communal bedroom – woven plastic mats spread across the dirt, a tarpaulin held up by a long pole. Some wore soft bathrobes over their gowns, called djellabas.
“We have lost everything,” said 46-year-old Khaddouj Boukrim, who greeted visitors with a warm handshake and a smile despite the crisis. “It is very cold. We have no mattresses.”
A medical student from Marrakech in the group, dressed in navy blue scrubs, put on blue latex gloves and looked through the cardboard box packed with medical supplies he had brought with him. He treated a pregnant woman’s infected finger and a young mother’s swollen bruise. It was clear that his team provided more than just medical assistance.
Mosa’ab Mtahhaf, the medical student, said he was prepared for open wounds and broken bones, but mainly had to treat long-term conditions. Villagers had already taken their seriously injured neighbors to the hospital.
Hope for the volunteers’ journey was tempered by deep frustration about the long road to recovery and the many uncertainties along the way.
“These people were already poor. Now they have nothing,” said Yousef Errouggeh, 29, a chef at a restaurant in Paris, who was back in his childhood village to help. “They don’t need food. They need someone who can rebuild their homes. How will they sleep when the rain comes?
He continued: “The situation is really bad. Everyone we have seen here is a fellow citizen, not the government.”
Mr Ayassi and his friends agreed that they would continue climbing the mountain to find other villages, which might have been more affected. They had no idea where they would sleep that night. And actually not when they would go home.
“When all our supplies run out,” he said.