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Earthquake in Morocco: on site, French rescuers struggle with struggle

We had to act quickly.

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Earthquake in Morocco: on site, French rescuers struggle with struggle

We had to act quickly. Seeing the images of the rubble following the 6.8 magnitude earthquake which killed more than 2,900 people in Morocco, several teams of French rescuers immediately prepared. But their outpouring of solidarity quickly came up against the Moroccan authorities. Humanitarian flows from abroad are strictly regulated. Give up, settle for donations, trick? The French volunteers had to revise their plans.

Most of them have not even left France. This is the case for the Lyon volunteer firefighters of the Casc Appui association. Made up of four rescuers experienced in rescue and search operations, a nurse and a dog handler, the team planned to arrive in Marrakech on Sunday with 300 kilos of equipment. She finally canceled everything. Countries around the world have offered to help. Most, including France, have not received the green light from Rabat to deploy aid. Some see it as a diplomatic snub. Others are Morocco's desire to provide aid adapted to the needs of the victims to avoid any humanitarian crush. Still, the firefighters felt that they would probably not be able to be useful once there.

Other teams, however, managed to embark for Morocco. Among them, the Saint-Etienne association of French Humanitarian Firefighters (PHF), made up of doctors, nurses and rescuers, arrived Sunday evening in Marrakech. In total, no less than eight volunteers and 400 kilos of equipment. But as soon as they get off the plane, the harassment begins. “We spent three hours stuck at customs,” says Tanguy Charrel, the head of the mission. Several hours of tough negotiations will be necessary to be authorized to reach Marrakech.

Also read: Earthquake in Morocco: the anguish of survivors in the High Atlas

The next day, a group is sent to Tahannaout, a small village located at the foot of the Atlas. This is where most rescue teams leave from. Theoretically, foreign humanitarian workers must obtain authorization from the authorities to be able to participate in relief, even if they come from countries requested by Morocco, such as Saudi Arabia or Great Britain. On site, the associations are controlled. “The teams which have the precious sesame are dispatched, the others must wait, or leave, continues Tanguy Charrel, a Spanish association which had not requested its authorization was even blocked, while Morocco accepted the aid of the 'Spain." In Marrakech, PHF had requested his pass. Unsurprisingly, the French association's request was refused.

Frustrated by their inaction, while the hope of extracting survivors from the rubble dwindles as time passes, the members of the team move on to plan B. “Our request for authorization was a request in principle , explains the president of the association Jérôme Giron, there was little chance of it working.” PHF contacted a Moroccan association authorized to provide assistance to victims. She now hopes to be able to provide supplies: medical crates and shelter kits for families. “These kits contain emergency supplies for families who have lost everything,” explains Jérôme Giron, “a tent, cooking supplies and mainly sleeping bags.” A donation campaign will be launched to finance these donations, with each medical fund or kit costing between 800 and 1000 euros respectively.

Despite Rabat's strict control over international aid, a small dog team decided to slip through the cracks. Arriving Saturday evening in Morocco, five rescuers from the Unité Légère d’Interventions et de Secours association U.L.I.S. go directly to a small destroyed village in the Atlas, near Amizmiz, with their four dogs. There, a resident spontaneously provides them with a room to sleep on the ground. And the work begins. “This is the first time that we have intervened without the green light from the authorities,” explains the head of the team, Patrick Villardy, “from the moment you make a request, you are registered, you are checked.”

In the rubble, rescuers from U.L.I.S. therefore make their dogs available to Moroccan firefighters and rescuers. “We remain humble and in the background,” underlines the expedition leader, “they are the bosses.” According to French volunteers, the dogs are appreciated by local rescue teams. “Sometimes, one of our dogs marks,” explains Patrick Villardy, “we report it, then we step back to let the Moroccans extract the bodies.” Since its arrival, the U.L.I.S. team. said he worked in seven villages and helped extract nine bodies from the rubble. So far, they have not found any survivors. But they are certain that it is still possible to save lives. “In Turkey, two people were extracted from the rubble eight days later,” recalls Patrick Villardy, “there is always a miracle.”

The volunteers of U.L.I.S. claim that the local population and Moroccan emergency services know that they are French. Their presence is tolerated, the welcome is even warm. But one word of caution: discretion. “We were advised to remove our French flags and our uniforms,” says Patrick Villardy. If they come across the Moroccan authorities, the rescuers risk being forced to leave the scene. A possibility that the manager brushes aside: “We are humans, we want to save humans, politics has nothing to do with it!” The rescuers hope to be able to help until the end of the week, especially since their departure was almost canceled: the expedition leader's passport having expired, the association based in the Var had to request the support of 'Éric Ciotti to obtain an emergency passport from the prefect.

The dog team plans to leave this Saturday, September 16. Men and dogs are already exhausted. Their family and their work await them in France. All are volunteers and came to help on their days off. Above all, the hope of finding survivors after eight days of searching is almost zero, according to them. They emphasize to Le Figaro the great rigor of the Moroccan relief deployed on site. Every day, trucks pass from village to village with tents and healthcare equipment. Food and water arrive regularly for the victims and for the rescuers present on site. Once back, the volunteers will try to mobilize donors to finance their expedition, partly paid for out of their own pockets.

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