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Morocco earthquake: Race against time to save survivors buried in rubble

Emergency workers search a destroyed house in Amizmiz, Morocco

Morocco faces a race against time to save those trapped under the rubble by Friday’s earthquake, as emergency services battle to supply remote areas.

Villagers continue to dig by hand and shovel to find survivors, as response teams struggle to bring in machinery.

Those same tools may now be needed to prepare graves for some of the thousands killed in the quake.

People “have nothing left,” a villager told the BBC. “People are starving. Children want water. They need help.”

Friday’s earthquake, the country’s deadliest for more than 60 years, struck below a remote cluster of mountainous villages south of Marrakesh.

The government reported that at least 2,122 people were killed and more than 2,421 injured, many critically.

The 6.8-magnitude tremor collapsed homes, blocked roads and swayed buildings as far away as the country’s northern coast.

Marrakesh’s old city, a Unesco World Heritage site, suffered damage.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI declared three days of national mourning on Saturday, as the scale of the devastation became clearer.

The royal palace said civil protection units had been deployed to increase stocks in blood banks, water, food, tents and blankets.

But it conceded that some of the worst-affected areas were so remote that it was impossible to reach them in the hours after the quake – the most crucial period for many of the injured.

Fallen rocks partially blocked the already poorly-maintained roads into the High Atlas Mountains, where many of the worst-affected areas lie.

Many buildings have been reduced to rubble in the small town of Amizmiz, in a valley in the mountains about 34 miles (55km) south of Marrakesh.

The local hospital is empty and deemed unsafe to enter. Patients are instead treated in tents in the hospital grounds – but staff are overwhelmed.

A hospital official, who asked not to be named, said that around 100 bodies were brought there on Saturday.

“I was crying because there were so many dead people, especially the young children,” he said. “Since the earthquake I haven’t slept. None of us have.”

Beyond the hospital, the streets are packed with rubble from destroyed buildings, heavy traffic and those who have lost everything to the quake.

A woman wails in grief and is held by those around her.

There are more tents at the side of the roads for people who have lost their homes, but not everyone has them.

Dozens of people are sleeping on rugs laid on the ground in the central square.

Abdelkarim Brouri, 63, is one of those whose house partially collapsed and has nothing to protect him from the elements.

“I can’t go back home,” he said, pleading for more help. “We’re helping each other. There’s no help coming from outside.”

“We used blankets to make a tent,” said Ali Ait Youssef, another Amizmiz resident. “The tents the government distributed are not enough.”

In a nearby village, crude graves covered with sticks and stones marked out some of the 100 residents killed.

Gravediggers were preparing more as locals said they had yet to receive any official support and were left to find and bury the dead themselves.