S’pore-based Moroccans anxious for families back home, helping by raising funds for quake victims
It was past 6am on Friday when Moroccan national Mouhtat Zakaria was woken up by a buzzing on his mobile phone. It was his family in Morocco, who had left him a voice message assuring him that they were safe.
They wanted to inform him that their country had been rocked by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that struck in the High Atlas Mountains. So far, more than 2,800 people have died.
His family home in Errachidia is about 500km away from the epicentre of the quake but they could still feel the tremors.
Mr Mouhtat, 31, who works in logistics, said: “They felt the ground shaking, so they all ran out of the house because they were afraid it will be destroyed. When the tremors eased, they returned to the house.
“I was worried, shocked and sad at the same time. I first thought it happened only in my city but when I checked the news, I knew the quake was felt in other parts of Morocco, and some cities were very badly affected.”
Three members of Mr Mouhtat’s extended family who live in a city called Taroudant - which was badly hit by the temblor - did not survive.
Another Singapore-based Moroccan, Mr Ibrahim Bouhelal - an associate director of an online travel agency - said he was frantic after hearing the news. His early attempts to reach his family were not successful but he said all his family members are safe.
Mr Ibrahim, 41, said: “I tried calling my family in Rabat, where there were tremors but the impact was not as bad as it was in cities like Marrakesh, Taroudant, and Ouarzazate.”
When he could not reach them, he became more anxious until he finally heard from his family, he added.
He said: “They left the building as a safety measure when the earthquake hit them and stayed out until 4am because they were afraid of likely aftershocks.”
Moroccans in Singapore The Straits Times spoke to said they are trying to do whatever they can to help quake-hit victims. For instance, when Ms Nadia Touil Louis, 45, heard about the quake and how badly Moroccans have been affected by it, she plugged into social media to raise awareness.
Ms Nadia, who is the head of the digital and e-commerce team at a food company, said most of her family member live in the north of Morocco, which has been largely spared from the quake. She said she has a few family members and friends residing in Agadir and Marrakesh, which have suffered more damage.
She said: “We are doing our best to support the victims by sending money through many trusted organisations in Morocco, and by raising awareness on social media.
“We know many people on the ground in the affected areas who need support, such as money, food and first-aid necessities to help the victims and people in despair.”
Ms Salma Miss, 35, who is the head of global marketing at a tech firm, said she is focusing on compiling information on several trusted non-governmental groups, and on how to donate to them online.
She said: “Many of us were unsure about how to contribute effectively, and there were concerns about potential scams.
Finance director Yasmina Manougui, 39, said that apart from sending money to aid groups, the Moroccan community in Singapore is drawing up a list of items that are in short supply in the quake-hit areas, including medical supplies, tents, sleeping bags, warm clothes, and non-perishable food.
“The aim is to collect these items and send them to Morocco. We are still figuring out the logistics and any help is welcome,” she said.
Ms Yasmina’s family lives Marrakesh, about 70km from the epicentre of the quake in the mountains. She said many houses in the old city were destroyed but there are no casualties in her family’s neighbourhood, as far as she knows.
She added that her family and neighbours are in a state of shock.
Ms Yasmina said: “They are also gripped by fear as many buildings have been damaged by the earthquake and they are not sure whether they will stand another aftershock.
“The communities near the epicentre in the Haouz region are the ones that suffered the most from the earthquake. They have lost their loved ones, their houses and for some of them, are still waiting for help.”
Ms Saida Chakri, who is a board member at the Moroccan Chamber of Commerce and Industry Singapore, said: “The first priority was for Morocco to organise blood donations in Marrakesh and all over the country. The response to the blood donation was overwhelmingly positive and continues to grow stronger.
“In terms of items to donate, I would say they need tents for families to sleep in, blankets, generators for electricity, medical supplies, clothes, canned food and milk for babies.”
She added that she hopes Singaporeans are able to donate directly using the special fund set up by the Morocco Treasury General. Anyone will be able to donate to this fund, whether they are in the country or in some other part of the world.
Ms Nadia said spirits are still up among Moroccans despite the disaster. A photograph she received from a friend in the Chichaoua region - about 75km from Marrakesh and hit badly by the quake - shows a small girl named Zineb standing on a pile of debris, smiling at her two sisters, who dream of becoming a doctor and teacher.