Lahcen sits in the corner of the village dispensary in Moulay Brahim in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains. He’s inconsolable after losing his wife and four children in Friday night’s earthquake.
The tragedy of what happened to Lahcen’s family is on everybody’s lips in the mountain village around an hour’s drive from the tourist city of Marrakesh.
The 40-year-old’s head is bowed, his body curled in pain.
“I’ve lost everything,” he says in a barely audible voice.
It is Saturday afternoon, and rescue workers have not yet managed to recover the bodies of his wife and son from the debris of what was once their home.
The lifeless bodies of Lahcen’s three daughters have already been carried from the rubble.
“I can’t do anything right now, I just want to get away from the world and mourn,” he manages.
He had been outside their house when the 6.8-magnitude quake hit at 11:11 pm (2211 GMT) on Friday.
The strongest-ever quake to hit the North African kingdom killed more than 1,300 people and injured over 1,800, many of them critically, according to the latest official toll.
More than half of the dead, 694 people, died in Al-Haouz province where the quake’s epicentre was recorded. Moulay Brahim is in the province and suffered more than a dozen deaths, with even more feared.
Rescue workers using heavy machinery were searching on Saturday for survivors and victims in the wreckage of collapsed houses. Graves are being dug on a hill in the village to bury its dead.
– ‘Everyone lost family’ –
Hasna, a woman in her forties, sits by the door of her modest home in the village. She is still in shock.
“It’s a terrible tragedy. We’re completely staggered by what has happened.
“My family was spared, but the whole village is mourning its children. Many of my neighbours lost loved ones. The pain is indescribable,” Hasna says.
Before the disaster, Moulay Brahim was home to some 3,000 people. On the high ground of the village, Bouchra wipes away tears with her scarf as she watches the men digging graves.
“My cousin’s grandchildren are dead,” she says. “I watched the devastation as it happened. I’m still shaking. It was like a fireball that consumed everything.
“Everyone here lost family, in this village and in others.”
Another villager, Lahcen Ait Tagaddirt, lost two young relatives who lived in a nearby village. His nephews were aged six and three when they died.
“It was the will of God,” he repeats, but he partly blames the region’s isolation.
“Here we have nothing. The mountain areas are very difficult,” he says.
A young neighbour who asked not to be identified by name relates how her uncle narrowly escaped death.
“He was praying when the roof fell in, but by some miracle they managed to get him out of the ruins of his house,” she says.
“It’s overwhelming to think that a few moments of shaking can cause so much misfortune.”
Originally published as A Moroccan mountain village mourns its quake dead