“In a few seconds, we became homeless,” explains a village resident. So, in the absence of humanitarian aid, he and many other men began building shelters to avoid spending another night outside.
Abdelatif bends young bamboo to use as tent stakes. Behind him, the village of Azro is nothing more than a pile of ocher earth and dusty stones on the hillside. Located 40 km south of Marrakech, the town did not resist the tremors of the earthquake which left more than 2,000 dead in the country, including two in this town. Nearly forty-eight hours later, Sunday September 10, no humanitarian aid had yet been sent to the village. So, the residents took the lead.
Along the road that leads to the Atlas Mountains, dozens of people are working on building this makeshift camp. Everywhere, men dig holes in the earth using long metal screws and plant dry bamboos collected near the nearby river. This small army then hangs fabrics, blankets or plastic sheeting on the wooden structures to provide shade and allow families to settle down.
“I’m here to help the shipwrecked, explains Abdelatif, who lives in a less affected neighboring village, as he ties the stems together. With these tents, the children will at least be able to find shelter.” The result is strikingly effective. In a few hours, a new village rose from the ground.
“We’ve been waiting for two days”
Bamboos and multicolored fabrics compensate for the lack of international aid in the area. Here, no large tents with the logos of an NGO or the Moroccan army as can be seen a few dozen kilometers further away, in more remote areas. “We’ve been waiting for two days, Abdelatif says impatiently. At least with these shelters we can wait a little longer.”
Some signs seem to show that this help could still arrive quickly. On the road that passes in front of the village, military trucks transporting equipment and backhoe loaders follow one another. An Italian civil protection group is also on site. “We arrived today and we are assessing the needs in order to provide the necessary assistance”explains Giovanni, in his midnight blue uniform.
The construction site is titanic. From the frail shelters hastily built by the residents, the view is breathtaking over what remains of the village of Azro, a few hundred meters away. There, residents are prohibited from returning to their homes. The risk is too great. “All the houses are glued together, it’s very dangerous. They could collapse at any moment,” warns Abdelatif, without stopping working despite the blazing sun.
“We have become homeless”
Only a few locals still go to the cracked streets of the village. Mustapha ventures there cautiously, avoiding the crevasse that winds in the road. He stops abruptly. “I’m going to give the keys of the house to my father”, warns this history-geography professor, before throwing the trousseau in the direction of an old man in a golden djellaba. “Finally, if there is still a door to open”he slips into a smile.
Unlike him, most of his neighbors are not lucky enough to still have four walls standing. On the heights of the village, openings in the houses reveal toilets that are still running and a television in a living room. Some homes are much more damaged and now look like a pile of rubble. The olive trees were uprooted by the scree, the green olives still attached to the branches.
“People are poor here. They built houses with stones and earth,” explains Mustapha. Under these conditions, most buildings did not resist the historic tremors of the earthquake for very long. “In seconds we became homeless,” launches the thirty-something, before changing his mind: “But it’s still a miracle that there weren’t more deaths.”
“It’s like a family here”
Not far from the village, Sarah, a young woman of 19, perhaps has an explanation for this less catastrophic toll than in other localities. “It’s like a family here. At the time of the earthquake, many of us were not yet asleep and still outside, together”, remembers the resident. A proximity which also explains the exceptional surge of local solidarity which took place in a few hours.
The young woman impatiently waits for this new makeshift village to finally be finished. In front of her, some shelters whose construction began that morning already have carpets on the ground. Something to give him hope. After the earthquake, Sarah had to spend the night outside. Then another night under the stars, between Saturday and Sunday. “We don’t feel safe here. We don’t know if rocks will fall. If houses will collapse,” she exposes, in her black dress decorated with a few white rhinestones. Outside, at nearly 1,000 meters above sea level, temperatures quickly drop below 15°C after dark.
So, like most locals, Sarah is now claiming “real refuges” to be able to spend the next nights warm and safe. “We also need water, food, diapers for the children, medicine”, Mustapha list, alongside other men from the village. Before leaving, he raises his voice for the first time: “We need help!”