A team of Moroccan mountain rescuers is responding to the aftermath of the 6.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated communities in the High Atlas range on Friday. Authorities estimate that nearly 3,000 people have died in the disaster, with many more in critical condition and an estimated 300,000 affected in some of the country's poorest mountain regions. Outdoor groups and individuals with connections in the area are also coordinating aid efforts.
Due to the remote and mountainous location of the worst affected areas, search and rescue efforts have been complicated and specialist teams from abroad have been flown in. The challenge of accessing the most remote areas has caused a delay in emergency response services and many local teams have taken rescue efforts into their own hands.
Among them is a group of professional mountain guides and rescuers from the southern Anti-Atlas region of Tafraoute in Morocco, the Association des Guides et Accompagnateurs de L'Anti-Atlas, who are currently on the ground assisting rescue and recovery operations in some of the hard-to-reach mountain villages in the Taroudant region.
Brahim Inknjtaoun, a former member of the association who is now based in Omaha, Nebraska, has been fundraising for the team from afar alongside his wife Monica Miller, a former Peace Corps volunteer.
"It is challenging to not be with them in this difficult time," Inknjtaoun said. "I want to be there to help. I am from a rural village, and so I know these people very well and I understand where they are coming from. I'm so proud to watch my team, my friends, doing this hard work there. It makes me happy to help my friends and the people of these villages, even if I'm far away. This is how we are as Moroccans."
The association consists of licensed tour guides with training in search and rescue, recovery, and first aid. They have the skills to reach the most rural and remote villages affected by the recent earthquake and decided to deploy to the Taroudant region.
"The team was the first to reach the villages in the Commune of Tigouga," Miller said. "They have been hiking through the mountains over the past few days providing food and first aid, and carrying the injured down the mountain."
In the last few days, official local teams have been able to reach the centre of the commune and assist with triage. However, due to the damaged roads leading to the villages, ambulance crews have struggled to drive up to them. As a result, the team is working in conjunction with the local aid teams to bring victims down to a base camp to be triaged and treated.
"Local authorities were able to arrange a helicopter this morning to rescue two women with spinal injuries from the mountain and they are now being treated by local providers," Miller said. "The team is grateful for the locals and will continue to support with the recovery efforts."
The five villages that the team has reached so far are severely damaged and poor weather is worsening the situation.
"The villagers have been displaced, and so we hope to be able to provide shelter and care for them at this time," Miller said. "We've been able to use the first of our donations to purchase large tents, which will be used to set up a camp of sorts for the survivors, as we don't want them to remain exposed to the elements."
Once these villages are secured, the team will plan where to focus their efforts next.
"The reports we're hearing is that many villages in the Taroudant region remain inaccessible, so we hope to be able to aid the local rescue teams to reach those most remote villages," Miller explained.
The epicentre of the earthquake was 70 kilometres south of Marrakesh and a 4.9 magnitude aftershock followed the initial quake, causing widespread destruction. According to the United Nations, the worst-hit area is the Al Haouz district in the High Atlas Mountains, which is estimated to account for over half of the death toll of ~3,000 to date.
Anti-Atlas guiding association member Ahmed El Omary is the team leader on the ground, alongside his father Mohamed El Omary, who is supporting logistical planning and coordination. Rescue team members are Brahim Bohou, Rachid Oubih, Abdullah Oubih, Mustafa El Omary, Yassine Toudma, Ali El Aazizi, Abderrahmane Othmany—among other volunteers who have joined along the way.
"They are the true heros of this story. They didn't hesitate - they immediately jumped to put their training into action and help in any way they could," Miller said. "They have been working tirelessly, day and night, to save as many people as possible and care for the survivors. Their strength and dedication is a credit to the kindness and generosity of the Moroccan culture."
Inknjtaoun and Miller have so far fundraised over $10,000 for food and emergency supplies for victims.
"We are blown away by the support we have received and we are grateful to everyone who has stepped up," Miller said. "Collecting donations is the least we can do, and we are so happy to be able to provide some support from afar. The team on the ground is providing heroic work, and our goal is to just uplift them. Morocco is strong in the hearts of many people, and it's beautiful to see how the community has come together."
Due to the connection that many in the outdoor sphere have with Morocco's mountains and their people, a number of individuals and groups are also coordinating their own aid efforts.
Muslimah adventure group The Wanderlust Women, who launched a charity project for orphans in Armoud following their first expedition to Mount Toubkal, are diverting funds to the aid of disaster victims and coordinating a team on the ground. 'Our colleagues, friends and family have been affected amongst the vast number of villagers, locals and unaccounted-for individuals who are stuck in the rubble,' their fundraiser explains. Founder Amira Patel wrote on Instagram: 'Aid is being delivered in the mountains with food blankets and essentials - urgently in need of tents - outdoor brands could you help to donate?'
Professional climber Nina Caprez, who had travelled to Morocco for a family climbing trip, chose to remain in the country west of Marrakesh to coordinate aid collections and distribute donated items. "We sent our sleeping bags, tents, did a big shop and everything left in a van today," she said. "Even if we and others are far from the affected places, there is huge sense of solidarity across the whole country."
It's a collective sentiment that Brahim Inknjtaoun recognises.
"Morocco is my home, and it will always be my home," he said. "The people are my family, and Moroccans will always help their family."