By Alexander Cornwell and Jihed Abidellaoui
TALAT N’YAAQOUB, Morocco (Reuters) – About to return to school, seven-year-old Suleiman Aytnasr had been carried to his bedroom to ensure a good night’s rest after he had fallen asleep in the living room. As he slept, a powerful earthquake brought down the ceiling.
The boy’s father, Brahim, 41, had been praying when the 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck their hamlet on the outskirts of Talat N’Yaaqoub, one of the areas hardest hit by the disaster that has killed some 2,500 people in Morocco.
Brahim said he desperately sought to gather his family. His two elder sons, who were upstairs, had to climb through the collapsed kitchen ceiling to reach their parents and a cousin whom Brahim is raising. But Brahim was unable to reach Suleiman.
His wife had told him to listen for any sound that would indicate their son was still alive.
After hearing no sound through the rubble, he said he knew his son was dead. Brahim would later retrieve Suleiman’s body with the help of family members.
“He’s gone,” Brahim said. “We thank God that our other sons are still alive.”
Suleiman’s brother, Mouath, 20, wiped away tears as he spoke about the tragedy, standing in the spot where the living room had once stood. He described Suleiman as playful and a lover of nature.
Located some 72 km (45 miles) south of Marrakech in the High Atlas Mountains and near the epicentre of the earthquake, many of the houses in the hamlet had been pulverised.
Boulders have blocked roads, making it difficult for rescue workers to reach the area. Heavy machinery has been used to clear roads, only for subsequent rockfall to block them again.
Brahim said he had helped rescue six neighbours buried under the rubble the night of the earthquake and pulled out several dead bodies. Many people in the hamlet had been killed, he said.
“There is a lot of suffering but we thank God for everything,” he said. “God can make everything right again. We haven’t lost hope.”
Brahim, who moved to the hamlet in 2000, said he planned to stay and rebuild. He urged the authorities and charities to provide assistance to help them rebuild their lives.
On Monday, the Moroccan army briefly visited Brahim’s hamlet, surveying the damage as helicopters flew over.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell Jihed Abidellaoui; Editing by Tom Perry and Alex Richardson)