Imidal, Morocco — High in the central Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, hope was fading fast Tuesday of finding more survivors four days after a devastating earthquake rocked the region and claimed more than 2,900 lives. The 6.8 magnitude temblor was unusual for the area, and towns and villages built largely of mud-brick dwellings were incredibly vulnerable.
Buildings damaged by the quake were still crumbling in on themselves from aftershocks Tuesday as CBS News visited one decimated mountain town where 48 people were killed. The country’s Interior Ministry put the confirmed death toll at 2,901 on Tuesday, with some 5,530 other wounded, according to state media.
There is only one road into the town for rescuers and aid workers to try to help — a one-lane highway where a traffic jam or a rockslide could mean the difference between life and death.
With time slipping away, rescuers and residents were left to dig frantically in the dirt and debris to try to rescue their own brothers, sisters, wives, and children.
“I heard my sister screaming, ‘Brother, brother, save us!’ I rescued her and her son and her husband,” Mohamed Ouchen told us. “We used our bare hands because we didn’t have tools.”
Such scenes of joy, more common shortly after the quake, were growing increasingly rare on Day 4 after the tragedy. Rescue crews only gained access to many remote parts of the decimated region on Monday.
The crucial golden period — the best window for finding survivors who might still be struggling to survive beneath the rubble — had closed, meaning many victims who could have been saved in the hours right after the quake died.
In the High Atlas Mountains, near the epicenter of the earthquake, jagged cliffs, serpentine passage, and rustic dwellings proved to be just as lethal as they were awe-inspiring.
The mud-brick homes don’t just collapse, they crumble, and when they do fall apart there are often no air pockets left in the heap for survivors. Victims can choke to death on the dust.
If there was anyone to save, locals told CBS News they were largely left to save themselves.
“The government didn’t come, we didn’t see anyone,” resident Mouhamed Aitlkyd told us. “After the earthquake, they only came to count the number of victims. Since then, no-one is here with us.”
Morocco’s government insisted that “from the first seconds” of the disaster, “all civil and military authorities and medical staff, military and civil, have worked on the swift and effective intervention to rescue the victims and recover the bodies of the martyrs,” but many Moroccans felt compelled to help their compatriots any way they could.
At a blood bank in Marrakech, people have been standing in line for hours in the blazing sun to donate.
“I felt so sorry, I would like to help,” Sukaina told CBS News as she waited to give blood. “There are people injured — Moroccan citizens — I am one of them. It’s a must for all Moroccans to do the same thing.”
The government has been delivering rescuers, medicine, and other help. CBS News saw several helicopters flying overhead and trucks driving by on their way into the disaster zone.
But most of that movement was to deliver aid to survivors, and there was little hope left of finding anyone still trapped under the ruins alive.