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Funerals are underway with death toll expected to rise in Morocco earthquake

NATHAN ROTT, HOST:

It was a day of aftershocks, funerals and frantic rescues today in Morocco. More than 2,100 people are confirmed dead since Friday's earthquake, and that death toll is expected to rise as aid teams approach some of the worst-hit areas high in the Atlas Mountains. The United Nations estimates some 300,000 people have been affected. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Marrakesh, about 40 miles from the earthquake's epicenter.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing in non-English language).

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The minaret of the 12th century Kutubiyya Mosque remains standing in Marrakesh's old city. And today, it issued a special call to prayer for the missing while aftershocks shook buildings all around it.

NIZA ARRAB: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: Niza Arrab's (ph) house survived the initial quake Friday, but an aftershock today sent her running. And now she's camping on a curb with her two children. It feels like every patch of grass in this city, even highway medians, are covered with sleeping bags.

ARRAB: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: Piles of blankets and pillows, little children playing with a stray kitten - families are trying to put up sheets and give themselves some kind of privacy in this outdoor encampment. They've spent two nights here. People have delivered water and food, but they don't know the state of their homes, and they're scared to go back. There have been several aftershocks in the past few hours.

ARRAB: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: Arrab's mother lives in the mountains near the quake's epicenter. She just heard from her. She's safe, but her neighbors on either side are not, and funerals are already underway. She doesn't know when the road will be safe enough to travel to go see her mother. While international rescue teams begin to arrive at Morocco's airports, Moroccans themselves are already mobilizing. In Marrakesh today, a huge crowd formed at the gates of a blood bank servicing some of the area's big government hospitals.

What's happening here? So much commotion.

HASSAN WAHEL: Already closed the donation for today.

FRAYER: You have so many people...

WAHEL: Yes.

FRAYER: ...That you closed the gate already.

WAHEL: Already. It feels great for Moroccans that cooperate for - to give their blood. It's very important.

FRAYER: Hassan Wahel (ph) is a 22-year-old volunteer in a reflective vest, and the blood he's collecting is destined for just across the street at an emergency room. Doctors are all gathered at the emergency room entrance here. Every 30 seconds, a minute, another ambulance pulls up, and stretchers roll in. A lot of these patients now have come from a long distance up in the mountains. They're bandaged. They're bleeding. Some are unconscious. They're - got splints on their legs. They're being wheeled in on stretchers that are caked with dust and dirt.

Dirt from the road that brings them down from the mountains. We drove part of that road today in the other direction, toward the epicenter. The asphalt was cracked, lined with military convoys and funeral processions. We heard about boulders blocking the road farther ahead and whole villages crumbled off a hillside. At one point, we stopped to ask for directions from an elderly man named Ahmed Ganu (ph) who was pacing in a field.

AHMED GANU: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: Beyond this point, he said, there's hardly anything left.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Marrakesh.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

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.