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As snow season looms, quake victims fear another disaster

'I lost everything. I can’t afford to lose anymore': As snow season looms in Morocco, quake victims fear another disaster
5 min read
22 September, 2023
Over the past decades, Atlas Mountains villagers mastered resilience in battling harsh weather. However, facing this year’s snow season in homelessness will bring another tragedy to the quake-hit area.

In Idni, 100 km away from the quake epicentre in Ighil, Fadma, a woman in her eighties, stands in her floral gown holding a weathered while gazing out into a sea of rubbles, memories and dead bodies.

The eighty-year-old woman shakes her head looking at the gloomy sky, then she starts scooping slowly the soil around her bleu tent, creating a small tunnel to stop the early September rain from flooding the camp.

“This weathered might be able to stop the light rain, but what will we do when the snow storms start,” asks Fadma as she pauses her digging mission to prepare tea for visitors.

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From Asni to Tizi’ N’test, the narrow road stretches out ahead of the driver, a patchwork of years of neglect twisted around the so-called forgotten Morocco. Potholes pockmark the surface, waiting to collect dust, rain and snow. Cracked mountains spill rocks on cars and walkers as the aftershocks continue to hit the area.

Each November, the severe snow storms block the patchy roads putting over 1,000 villages in the Atlas mountains in isolation for weeks, without access to electricity, hospitals and schools.

Over the past decades, villagers mastered resilience in battling harsh weather. However, they say facing this year’s snow season in homelessness will bring another tragedy to the quake-hit area.

“I lost my sister, my house, my herd. I lost everything. I can’t afford to lose anything or anyone anymore,” Fadma added in her interview with The New Arab.

A wood bed Arghbar villagers used to carry victims of the quake to the cemetery after the ambulance could not cross the cracked road [The New Arab]

In Aghbar, a village nestled in the heights of the Atlas Mountains between Marrakech and Taroudanet, the air still smells like death as decomposing bodies of animals lay under the rubble.

A day after the quake, villagers pulled the bodies of their loved ones from under the ruins with their bare hands, after waiting patiently for the arrival of the rescuers — who did not arrive until the third day.

Seven to eight people died in each Douar in the village, locals have assumed.

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“We didn’t know what happened. When the quake hit, it was like bombs. We ran outside. We spent the whole night waiting for someone to come. No one did,” Kouloud, who was visiting her parents' house on the quake night, told The New Arab.

The next morning, Kholoud ran for two hours to the nearby village to fully grasp what hit the area on the night of September 8: a strong earthquake that flattened hundreds of villages.

From the outside, some traditional clay houses still stand tall keeping a sturdy facade. However, the moment you step inside, which probably you should not, the interior reveals the house's true condition. Cracks and fissures climbed from the floors to the ceilings, spilling dust and rubble whenever an aftershock hit the area. 

Clay houses in the Moroccan village of Aghbar after the strong earthquake [The New Arab]

“They are like us. They seem strong. But they are collapsing from inside,” Al-Hajj Mina, a woman in her seventies, told The New Arab as she recalled the events of the quake night.

At the foot of the mountain, villagers built a makeshift camp from covers and plastics to shelter from September’s breeze. 

A few metres away, under the walnut trees, they set up a kitchen and a slaughterhouse where generous meals are made to feed villagers and volunteers who flooded the villages with donations from around Morocco.

Meanwhile, a group of volunteering engineers installed solar power in the devastated village to help the inhabitants get access to electricity and stay connected to the world. 

However, Al-Hajja Mina says everything will be gone the minute snow starts.

“The rain will start soon. look at the sky. Then snow will follow shortly. What’s then? What will we do,” she asked.

No one seems to have a direct answer to this question.

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Last week, Morocco announced the launch of an aid programme to support and rehouse the residents of the buildings damaged in the devastating earthquake.

A royal statement said those left homeless, which have yet to be counted, will be provided with temporary shelter in "structures designed to withstand cold and bad weather, or in reception sites equipped with all the necessary amenities.”

The Moroccan authorities have also ordered urgent aid of 30,000 dirhams (nearly $3,000) to households affected by the disaster, the statement added.

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Morocco’s ministry of housing said those living near the emerging centres might be instructed to relocate.

“We will see with them some solutions in order to improve the quality of life, but we cannot impose, by a central decision, a change in the cultural and architectural composition of the mountain dwellers,” Morocco’s minister of housing Fatima Ezzahra Al-Mansouri told local media.

When told about the government’s plan, Al-Hajja Mina did not seem impressed. She shrugged as she stirred a pot of mint tea she insisted on preparing. 

“I don’t believe these things. If they want to listen to us they should come and see us. No one checked on us besides these young men here,” she said as she pointed at the military man building a tent.

The Minister of Housing has visited one village in Chichaoua province. Meanwhile, no other Moroccan official visited the devastated villages in the two weeks following the quake — a move that added to the sorrow of most villagers in the badly hit areas.

“Only the poor man feels the ache of his brother. The men in suits never cared about us,” said Al-Hajja Mina as she climbed skillfully the rocky road leading to a nearby village.

Basma El Atti is The New Arab’s Morocco correspondent, covering local affairs and social and cultural events in the Maghreb region. She began her career as a journalist in a Moroccan anglophone outlet, before joining the New Arab in 2022

Follow her on Twitter: @elattibasma