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Rescuers race to Morocco's Atlas Mountains to attend to quake victims

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have an eyewitness account today of devastation from an earthquake in Morocco.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The earthquake struck Friday night in the High Atlas Mountains. And that name gives you a clue into the difficulty of getting aid in to the people who need it most. Wrecked roads and aftershocks make it hard to get there. Nearly 2,500 people are known to have died so far. And thousands more are injured as recovery efforts continue.

INSKEEP: NPR's Lauren Frayer is in Marrakech, a city near the quake's epicenter. Hey there, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do you see?

FRAYER: Well, I'm in the doorway of a public hospital emergency room. And about every minute or so, an ambulance comes up, disgorges victims, people with bandages, splints on their legs, some unconscious. Wailing relatives pile out of the ambulances with them. People are caked in dust and dirt. These are victims who have been pulled out of the rubble from the quake sort of 48 hours on. In some cases, they got treatment at smaller facilities in the mountains but now are being shifted to this larger hospital. I talked to an ER doctor there. Her name is Oumaima Tounsi (ph), and I asked her about the injuries she's seeing.

OUMAIMA TOUNSI: It's mainly broken bones, broken limbs, hemorrhaging, like, internal hemorrhaging in the chest.

FRAYER: Hemorrhaging, internal bleeding.

TOUNSI: Exactly. Yes. We have a lot of that too.

FRAYER: This looks like a head injury here. He's bandaged, and his neck is in a brace.

TOUNSI: Yes. Could be the neck. It could be the head, which is, like, very, very dangerous territory.

FRAYER: She says nothing in med school prepared her for this.

INSKEEP: Yeah. How could anything, really? Lauren, thanks for the imagery there of the hospital where you're standing. What is the situation elsewhere in this large city?

FRAYER: You know, the biggest thing you notice is people sleeping outdoors. Lots of people, even if their homes survived Friday's initial quake, the aftershocks keep hitting. And so you see people just running out of buildings all of the time, and many are too scared to reenter at all. And so every inch of green space, like highway medians, are covered with sleeping bags.

I've been driving around the city. Asphalt roads are cracked. Roads are closed as the military tries to repair them quickly. There's been a lot of focus on the walled old city of Marrakech. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A minaret from a centuries-old mosque there fell down - lots of broken glass. But there are also lots of tourists, Steve. Marrakech remains a tourist hub. And so you've got this eerie juxtaposition of, like, foreigners in Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses roaming around, taking selfies in the rubble.

INSKEEP: Oh, because they were present, of course, on Friday. Lauren I'm trying to think about the transit situation. You were able to reach there, I know, able to get a flight into an airport that is still functioning. But you also refer to cracked roads and roads closed. Can international aid arrive?

FRAYER: It is arriving. Search and rescue teams are coming from the U.K., Spain, Qatar, the UAE. There will obviously be questions about whether the government here requested that aid quick enough and why only four countries were invited. Moroccans, though, those who can, have really mobilized. I'm looking at a line around the block across the street from here at a blood bank where people are lining up to donate.

I drove part of the way up into the mountains yesterday. That road is in worse shape, choked with military convoys, ambulances, funeral processions. At one point, I stopped and asked for directions, and a man on the side of the road told me, you know, beyond here, there's just kind of nothing left. I am going to try to get beyond there today to some of those villages where we hear they're still without food, without water, without electricity, without any help at all.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll continue listening for your reporting then. And, Lauren, please be safe.

FRAYER: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer in Marrakech. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.