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Moroccans are coming together following an earthquake that's killed over 2,000

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

In Morocco, rescue teams are fanning out from the historic city of Marrakech to remote villages in the Atlas Mountains, two days after a powerful earthquake. Authorities say at least 2,000 people have died with thousands injured. NPR's Lauren Frayer is in Marrakech now and joins us. Welcome to the program.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi, Ayesha. Thank you for having me.

RASCOE: So, Lauren, Marrakesh is an old city, a UNESCO Heritage site. There are lots of old structures there. The epicenter of the quake was about 40 miles from there. Like, what is the city like today?

FRAYER: Well, I'm standing in front of a centuries-old mosque where the minaret crumbled. It sent stone flying across the street, crushed a car nearby. There's broken glass everywhere. These are historic buildings, centuries and centuries old, and they're irreplaceable. It's also eerie, though, because it is a tourist hub, and tourists are still here. And you've got this weird juxtaposition of, you know, Europeans in their vacation outfits, strolling around, taking selfies of the rubble. I've spent the morning driving around Marrakech, and the modern side of the city is largely intact. There are cracks in the asphalt that you sort of have to drive over. There are crews out repairing. I don't know if you can hear the bulldozers behind me, but they've just started to sort of shovel away all the rubble from this historic mosque and minaret behind me. And you're left with this feeling of just, like, cruel arbitrariness of Mother Nature here. Some buildings are perfectly intact. KFC is open, McDonald's is open, and yet others are completely gone.

RASCOE: What are you seeing or hearing of the rescue efforts going on as the hours tick by and, you know, the search for people under the rubble?

FRAYER: Well, rescue efforts are being impeded by aftershocks now. We've had several small ones this morning, and people keep running out of their homes, terrified. City parks, sides of roads - I mean, literally any green space that you can find is covered in sleeping bags with families sleeping out, spending the night either because their homes are wrecked or unsafe to go into, or they're just too frightened to go into buildings right now. And it is baking hot today. One of the people I met sleeping outdoors is Shaima Mahachan (ph). She's 17.

SHAIMA MAHACHAN: So many houses - like, they fall down. A lot of damages have happened. Like, people lost their lives and their families. So it's literally so scary.

FRAYER: Shaima has been sleeping outdoors with her parents, with her elderly grandma, with her two younger siblings. She's been trying to keep the little ones distracted, but she said she's super scared herself.

MAHACHAN: We're actually terrified. Like, I'm shaking right now. I don't know what to do. Like, I can't think of anything besides the earthquake. Like, I'm so scared.

FRAYER: You can just hear the fear and the trauma in her voice, and I had to kind of steady her as she spoke.

RASCOE: Yeah. My goodness. We mentioned that the quake isn't limited to Marrakech. The epicenter is actually in the mountainous region. It's still hard to get a read on the extent of the damage out there, but what do you know about the conditions?

FRAYER: It's a traffic nightmare. Roads are closed, even in Marrakech. I'm exploring ways to get up into those mountains where we're hearing that there are villages completely cut off. There are roads that are blocked by boulders that have fallen down from the mountains. You know, we want to be sure not to crowd the roads and to give priority to the rescuers who are trying to save people there. I've talked to people in the city who are trying to reach loved ones up there, but we're hearing their village is without food, without water, without electricity, without connectivity at all.

RASCOE: And so how has the official response been from inside Morocco to other countries offering help?

FRAYER: It's pouring in from around the world. I mean, when I arrived at the airport last night, it was - it had become sort of a staging area, you know, for all these supplies coming in. And then also a partial campground for evacuees trying to get out. The Moroccan king has declared three days of national mourning. There are funerals underway. There are prayers at mosques across the country today. There are blood drives underway. This afternoon, I'm going to head to a hospital where we've heard the lines are out the door and around the corner. The public is turning up to give blood. There's been an amazing public outpouring. And, you know, when I was interviewing people on the side of the road sleeping, private citizens were coming down and delivering food and water to their countrymen in dire need of it here.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer in Marrakech, Morocco. Thank you so much, Lauren.

FRAYER: Thanks, Ayesha. 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.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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.