02:04 - Source: CNN
'Normally a tourist paradise': See what the hardest-hit area in Morocco looks like now
Moulay Brahim CNN  — 

Rescuers in Morocco are battling to find survivors from Friday’s powerful earthquake, with more than 2,000 people killed and remote villages near the epicenter left in ruins.

In the hard-hit central village of Moulay Brahim, south of Marrakech in the Atlas Mountains, CNN found a family living in a makeshift camp on a soccer field, with authorities telling them it could be a week before they can go home. Firefighters are leading rescue efforts but some buildings are too dangerous to enter.

The building where Mina Bakenziz lived was almost entirely destroyed. “The people came and pulled me out,” she said. “Nothing fell on me, I was so lucky.”

There have been offers of help from around the world but it is not clear how much aid is reaching those in need. The United Nations on Saturday said it offered support but Morocco was handling the response itself.

Though on Sunday, dozens of Spanish rescuers arrived in Marrakech after Morocco officially requested help, say Spanish officials. Morocco’s King Mohammed VI also thanked Spain, Qatar, Britain and the United Arab Emirates for sending aid, state-run broadcaster al-Aoula reported.

The 6.8-magnitude quake struck late on Friday. It was also the strongest to hit the region around the ancient city of Marrakech in a century, according to the US Geological Survey.

The death toll climbed to 2,122 on Sunday afternoon, state-run broadcaster 2M said, with a further 2,421 people injured.

The number of fatalities is expected to rise further as rescuers dig through the rubble of collapsed houses in remote areas of the Atlas Mountains.

In Marrakech, the largest city near the center of the quake and a major tourist draw, many families spent Saturday night staying out in the open, as authorities warned residents to pay close attention to aftershocks.

Hatimi, 53, slept in a central Marrakech park with her entire family, including little children. She said it got cold at night, so they stayed together. “Everybody was outside. All of the neighbors, everyone. We don’t want to go inside, everyone is scared, the shaking was so strong,” she told CNN.

People stayed away from the damaged buildings in the city’s tightly-packed medieval-era center as well as the surrounding red earth walls, where parts have crumbled.

In the Oliveraie Park in central Marrakech, hundreds of people, including children and the elderly, slept on blankets and makeshift mattresses. Families huddled together, trying to get some rest after the shock and panic from the night before.

Ammar Awad/Reuters
Ait Abdellah Brahim, 86, sits in rubble in Talat N'Yaaqoub, Morocco, on Saturday, September 16.
Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images
People wait to receive assistance in their village between the cities of Marrakech and Taroudant on Sunday, September 17.
Emilie Madi/Reuters
An elderly woman is surrounded by tents at the Regraga camp in Amizmiz, Morocco, on September 17.
Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images
A crushed car is buried in rubble by the side of the road between Marrakech and Taroudant on September 16.
Ammar Awad/Reuters
Muslims attend Friday prayers in Talat N'Yaaqoub on September 15.
Ammar Awad/Reuters
Hammou Baha Ali, 80, searches for his belongings in Talat N'Yaaqoub on September 15.
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Collapsed buildings surround a mosque in Ighil, Morocco, on Thursday, September 14.
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The Moroccan Civil Defense Institution provides water for earthquake victims as search-and-rescue operations continue in Talat N'Yaaqoub on Wednesday, September 13.
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Rescue workers carry a body from a damaged house in Imi N'Tala, a village near Amizmiz, on September 13.
Nacho Doce/Reuters
An earthquake survivor lies in bed at a field hospital in Asni, Morocco, on September 13.
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Volunteers distribute relief goods to earthquake victims near Adassil, Morocco, on September 13.
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A man hugs a member of a civil protection team as it prepares to recover bodies in Imi N'Tala on September 13.
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These photos were found in the rubble of Talat N'Yaaqoub on Tuesday, September 12.
Hannah McKay/Reuters
An injured earthquake survivor is taken to a hospital in Talat N'Yaaqoub on September 12.
Ximena Borrazas/SOPA/Sipa/AP
Rescuers dig through rubble in Imi N'Tala on September 12.
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A doctor treats a patient at a military hospital in Asni on September 12.
Nacho Doce/Reuters
A crowd watches firefighters work in Talat N'Yaaqoub on September 12.
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A woman sits amid the rubble in Douzrou, Morocco, on September 11.
Alejandro Martinez Velez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Search-and-rescue operations continue in Talat N'Yaaqoub on September 11.
Hannah McKay/Reuters
A woman and a child rest in Tinmel, Morocco, on September 11.
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A man is overcome with grief as the body of his 30-year old son is removed from a collapsed house in Douzrou on September 11.
Hannah McKay/Reuters
Rescue workers carry a body in Talat N'yaaqoub on September 11.
Hannah McKay/Reuters
Mouath Aytnasr walks in his damaged house on the outskirts of Talat N'Yaaqoub on September 11. He lost his 7-year-old brother, Suleiman, in the earthquake.
Mosa'ab Elshamy/AP
A donkey stands inside a damaged building in Tafeghaghte, Morocco, on September 11.
Abu Adem Muhammed/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Bags of blood sit on a table at a blood center in Marrakech on September 11.
Nathan Laine/Bloomberg via Getty Images
People walk along an alleyway filled with rubble in the Old City district of Marrakech on September 11.
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Women look up at the damaged Kharbouch Mosque in Marrakech on September 10.
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Rescuers carry a victim's body in Amizmiz on September 10.
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Women mourn in the village of Moulay Brahim on September 10.
Hannah McKay/Reuters
People attend the funeral of two victims in Moulay Brahim on September 10. The mountain village and others like it were severely impacted by the earthquake, and their location has made it difficult to deliver aid.
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Emergency workers search a destroyed building in Amizmiz on September 10.
Hannah McKay/Reuters
Women watch the funeral of two victims in Moulay Brahim on September 10.
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People inspect collapsed buildings in Marrakech on September 10.
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People take shelter in a Marrakech park on September 9.
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A man stands near his damaged house in Moulay Brahim on September 9.
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Members of the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces carry a body in Tafeghaghte on September 9.
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A damaged room in the village of Tansghart on September 9.
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People mourn victims in Moulay Brahim on September 9.
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The minaret of a mosque stands behind damaged houses in Moulay Brahim on September 9.
Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images
A Marrakech resident navigates through the rubble on September 9.
Abdelhak Balhaki/Reuters
Rescue workers search through rubble in Amizmiz on September 9.
Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images
A woman stands in front of her earthquake-damaged house in Marrakech on September 9.
Mosa'ab Elshamy/AP
People inspect damaged homes in Moulay Brahim on September 9.
Abdelhak Balhaki/Reuters
A damaged vehicle sits in a street in Marrakech on September 9.
Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images
A resident looks at a damaged building in Marrakesh on September 9.

Some brought bags of clothes and food, preparing for a possible longer stay away from their homes.

The King has issued instructions to set up a commission for relief services to provide care, housing and foods for those affected. He also ordered mosques nationwide to hold funeral prayers, known as ‘Janazah’ prayers, at noon on Sunday for those killed.

Flags around the city are flying at half-mast to mark three days of national mourning announced by the monarchy.

In Marrakech’s airport, dozens of tourists slept on the floor in the main terminal, waiting to catch a flight out. Flights in and out of the tourism hub have been operating mostly as normal.

‘My house is gone’

Scenes of destruction and despair have also played out in villages dotting the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, where the quake was centered.

These remote areas had the highest number of fatalities, with homes made from mud bricks crumbling onto residents and boulders blocking road for rescue teams to arrive.

Aerial footage showed villages perching on slopes flattened, reduced to piles of rubble in the aftermath of the quake.

Fatima, 50, told CNN her house in the mountain village of Asni had been destroyed.

“I barely got the chance to grab the kids and run out before I saw my house collapsing in front of my eyes. The neighbor’s house has also collapsed and there are two dead people under the rubble,” she said.

Mohammed, 50, from the nearby town of Ouirgane, lost four family members in the quake.

“I managed to get out safely with my two children but lost the rest. My house is gone,” he said.

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Rescue operations there are ongoing.

“We are out in the streets with authorities as they try to pull the dead from the rubble. Many many people were transported to hospital in front of me. We are hoping for miracles from the rubble,” Mohammed said.

In the small town of Moulay Brahim, footage released by Reuters showed villagers digging through the rubble to pull out bodies.

Rescuers are racing against time. The first 72 hours after a quake are the most critical period for finding survivors, as the condition of people trapped and injured can quickly deteriorate beyond that window.

“They call it the ‘golden period’ because if you’re going to get people out from under the rubble, that’s the time to do it,” said Joe English, a spokesperson for the UN’s Children Fund, UNICEF.

“These towns and villages, they’re remote, they’re hard to reach…International support and solidarity is absolutely critical,” he added.

The World Health Organization said more than 300,000 people had been affected by the powerful tremors in Marrakech and surrounding areas.

Educational services will be suspended from Monday in 42 rural communities and villages in the quake-hit provinces of Al Haouz, Chichaoua and Taroudant, Morocco’s education ministry said in a statement published on broadcaster 2M.

Not since 2004 has the country seen a comparable disaster, when a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck the port city of Al Hoceima, claiming around 630 lives.

Morocco’s worst earthquake of modern times was in 1960 near the western city of Agadir which killed at least 12,000 people.