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Morocco's most powerful earthquake in over 100 years leaves hundreds dead

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A powerful earthquake has struck Morocco. The number of people who are reported dead has been climbing for hours. It is now over a thousand, and that number will continue to rise as rescuers scramble to save people from the rubble. We've been able to reach Associated Press reporter Sam Metz, who is near the epicenter in the High Atlas Mountains, about 50 miles south of Marrakech. Sam, thank you for being with us.

SAM METZ: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Please tell us where you are and what you've been able to see.

METZ: Scott, I am in Moulay Brahim. Like you said, it's a village south of Marrakech. It's one of what we believe are many towns and villages that this earthquake just wreaked havoc on. I'll tell you a little about what I'm looking at right now. Buildings here - this town is built into a hillside, and buildings have just been completely leveled and reduced to rubble. People's homes, community centers, hotels, cafes, totally leveled.

SIMON: Have we lost our connection?

METZ: No, I'm here.

SIMON: OK. Have you had a chance to speak with survivors?

METZ: Yeah. I've spoken to a lot of survivors who are gathered in a square, kind of awaiting next steps because their homes have been leveled. People are mourning the loss of their neighbors, their friends, their family members. And they say that this just happened really quickly. But the earthquake lasted a long time. People are saying it lasted up to a minute. It started. People tried to leave their homes, and then when the electricity went out and kind of the dust settled, things were completely turned to rubble.

SIMON: Sam, what kind of recovery efforts have you been able to see? I mean, crews trying to - forgive me - dig out people, locate them, emergency workers, medical workers who must be on the scene in a - what certainly sounds like a highly inaccessible area.

METZ: It's a highly inaccessible area. It's a very narrow two-lane road with a lot of winding and switchbacks. I saw some Red Cross workers stuck on their way up trying to get boulders out of the road so they could get up here to Moulay Brahim and towns like this. There are Moroccan rescue crews up here that continue to try to dig people out of the rubble. A lot of times, they're in these very narrow spaces, passing people water or axes and hammers, just doing everything they can to help people as they hold on for life.

SIMON: Yeah. Have medical personnel been able to arrive? What kind of care is available for people? There must be a lot of injured, too.

METZ: There is a lot - yeah, there are - we're reporting more than 1,200 injured. I think that is over 700 in critical condition. There is a small health center in the town that I'm in right now and a larger hospital in Marrakech. The most fatal cases were transported to Marrakech, while they're treating surface wounds and other things here.

SIMON: Well, thank you very much for being there - very busy, undoubtedly - and finding the time to speak with us. Sam Metz, who is a reporter with the Associated Press, who is in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Thanks very much, Sam.

METZ: Thank you for having me. 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.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.