Anger and mourning after deadly Morocco stampede

Anger and mourning after deadly Morocco stampede
Blog: Relatives have identified the bruised bodies of victims of a stampede that killed 15 women during a food aid delivery in Morocco's Essaouira.

3 min read
A stampede killed 15 women during a food aid delivery [Getty]
Mourning relatives have identified the bruised bodies of victims of a stampede that killed 15 women during a food aid delivery near the popular tourist town of Essaouira on Morocco's coast.

"I hardly recognised my mother," said Mjid, a son of one of the victims.

Hundreds of women had gathered at a marketplace in the village of Sidi Boulaalam on Sunday, around 60 kilometres (35 miles) northeast of Essaouira, for an annual distribution of food aid organised by a benefactor from the region.

A witness told AFP that people had pushed and broken down barriers as they fought for food.

Speaking from a hospital bed, one survivor compared the incident to deadly stampedes during the annual Islamic pilgrimage that draws millions of worshippers to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

"If you fall, it's over for you and you get trampled on," she said. "Nobody came to our aid, everyone was shouting for help."

Authorities have launched a probe into the tragedy, which also injured 10 women. 

At the morgue of Essaouira's hospital, the scent of incense barely covered the stench of corpses wrapped in blankets.

Mohamed, a forensic doctor from Essaouira who preferred not to give his last name, said the bodies were "in a sorry state".

"They had severe fractures, huge bruises on the body," he said.

The families of the dead came to identify their relatives as ambulances waited to take the bodies away for burial.

"I lost my big sister," said Habiba, a woman bundled up in a pink djellaba robe, a veil over her hair.

"She came to get oil and flour, but there were too many people. She fell and was trampled on," the 57-year-old said. 

The press and social media users have blamed Morocco's glaring social and regional inequalities for the accident, calling it a "two-speed country".

News website Medias 24 blamed poverty for the crush, calling it an "unprecedented tragedy".

"People here are needy, there is no agriculture, no work," Mjid said.

He moved from Sidi Boulaalam to commercial capital Casablanca as a young man, leaving behind a village of 8,000 people eking out a meagre living from their livestock, far from the developed infrastructure of Morocco's main cities.

Provincial officials said arrangements had been made for the aid delivery, but "the crowd exceeded estimates".

Khalid Azourar, a member of a local NGO, blamed the accident on a lack of organisation. 

"Poverty is in people's minds," he said. "People do not know how to respect a queue." 

In early October, an official report slammed severe poverty in rural areas of Morocco.

Medias 24 said Sidi Boulaalam was "one of the poorest" villages in the country.

Social media users slammed the "state of affairs" for allowing the tragedy to occur.

One Facebook user said: "All this to live decently and in peace. Is this the degree to which our country has reached?!"

"A disaster in all standards," another said. "Getting some aid caused the deaths of those in need. People should be tried for not taking all the security and organisational precautions to pass this initiative in a humanitarian atmosphere instead of what resulted in this farce."

Meanwhile, another Facebook user laid the blame on authorities.

"The corrupt government is the cause of this tragedy. Where is the decent life, health, social justice and education?"

Moroccan investigators are looking to "determine the circumstances of the incident", while King Mohammed VI has issued orders to "provide the necessary help and support to the families of the victims and the injured".

The king will also "personally cover the costs of victims' funerals and burials, and the care of the injured", the interior ministry said.