The scars, the rubble and the spirit of rebuilding

By | September 17, 2023

The earthquake just over a week ago crippled a six-century-old mosque in one of Amizmiz’s oldest neighborhoods, shattering the pinkish-brown minaret.

A nearby row of shops appeared untouched, until I saw the vertical scar, as if a giant ax man had attempted to cut through two shops, and almost succeeded. The guts of a nearby building were on display.

“You should see the really bad ones around the corner,” said Abdi, the man outside the mosque.

He was right. Those houses didn’t actually exist, although the remains of a television could be seen sticking out of the rubble.

In Amizmiz many died and some bodies have not yet been recovered.

Next to the shops, another man methodically piled up his belongings in the small square, with the sofas and wardrobes exposed to the elements. I wished him courage and he managed to smile politely.

Not all of Amizmiz was hit as hard as this neighborhood. But everyone who lives here has been affected.

A building in Morocco damaged by the earthquake

Buildings are unsafe in Amizmiz, a Moroccan town trying to recover from the earthquake

The buildings are unsafe and so almost everyone has left their homes.

The luckiest were given refuge by the government. I could see a long line of yellow tents on the opposite hillside, and blue tents closer to the center of town.

One hotel allowed anyone to stay for free, an example of the Moroccan sense of solidarity I encountered so often this week.

It was at the hotel that I met Abdelali, a friend of a friend of a friend. A secondary school teacher wearing a lilac T-shirt and sunglasses appeared relaxed, until he started talking about his ordeal.

Many of his students and friends had died in the earthquake.

““We need a new word that is even stronger than horrible, horrible, disastrous, catastrophic.””, Source: Abdelali, Source Description: Teacher, Image: Abdelali

He had celebrated his daughter’s 21st birthday on what he now calls “Black Friday.” As soon as she blew out the candles, the earth began to shake. A birthday she will never forget, a moment that changed everything. The whole family now lives in a tent.

“We need a new word,” Abdelali said, raising his voice with each sentence, “that is even stronger than horrible, horrifying, disastrous, catastrophic. Violent is not a good description, terrifying does not describe the situation .”

The school he was so passionate about might not open for months and classes would be held in tents, putting the chances of an entire generation of students at risk. His bank had been destroyed, which meant he had to travel dozens of kilometers to withdraw the money.

His real fear, however, was winter, when temperatures plummet and snow covers the slopes. What will he and his family do if they are still living in their thin tent when the snow comes?

This part of Morocco is one of the poorest and least developed in the country.

The government’s response to this crisis has been too slow, many have told me. Morocco has always been a bureaucratic and hierarchical country. I approached a series of officials for interviews, in hospitals and makeshift camps for displaced people; they all refused, saying they didn’t have their boss’s permission.

Morocco has also rejected offers of help from former colonial power France, at least until now, although foreign support will certainly be needed for such a major reconstruction job.

Family members Fatima Bejjar, Melika Ouabella, Yemna Bejjar and Fadma Bejjar sit next to tents in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Amizmiz, Morocco

Yellow tents line Amizmiz Hill, providing safety and shelter to earthquake survivors

At the hotel I asked Shaimaa, one of the many residents left homeless by the earthquake, if she believed the government would be able to help her. She laughed, she said she doubted it, but she added that she had faith in the Moroccan people.

Since the earthquake struck, Moroccans have banded together to buy water and juice, cooking oil and bread, sanitary products and blankets – everything survivors might need.

They went into the heart of these mountains, along roads where an aftershock could send rocks raining down steep slopes, to provide help to people like Shaimaa and Abdelali.

Back near the mosque, Abdi motioned for me and my colleagues to come closer.

“You have to eat,” he said, and brought out a plate of perfectly steamed vegetables atop fragrant yellow grains of couscous.

Moroccan hospitality is inevitable, even in the most difficult circumstances; The spirit of Moroccans was not crushed by the weight of the earthquake.

Amizmiz is – I should say was – a lovely little town.

It follows the curve of the road from Marrakech towards the mountains, with incredible views of the valleys that take on a delicate peach hue as the sun begins to set. Foreign tourists have been coming here for decades to hike in the hills, and Moroccans to get some respite from the frenetic urban charms of Marrakech.

Not anymore.

This story was broadcast on From our correspondentyou can listen to the entire episode here or download the podcast on BBC Sounds.

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