Moroccans in D.C. region donate, fundraise, support after earthquake


Belkacem Nahi lives in Northern Virginia, but on Tuesday afternoon he found himself walking through the rubble-strewn streets of Amizmiz, Morocco, a small town south of Marrakesh, not far from the epicenter of the devastating 6.8-magnitude earthquake that hit the country late Friday night.

Homes had been leveled. Businesses destroyed. The smell of death was in the air.

“Psychologically, it’s heavy,” Nahi said in a telephone interview. “You see a kid who lost both parents. Or a husband who lost a wife and a kid. It’s just a very, very sad situation.”

What caused the Morocco earthquake and what made it so deadly

Amizmiz was not where Nahi expected to be this week. He was on vacation visiting relatives in Casablanca when the quake struck. There was some damage there, but it wasn’t until the next day that the extent of the destruction elsewhere in the country became apparent. That’s when Islamic Relief U.S., the organization Nahi works for, asked him to travel to the most heavily hit region to assess the most urgent needs.

While Nahi is now on the front lines of the relief efforts, many other Moroccans in the Washington area have spent the past few days checking on relatives back home and trying to send help in any way they can. But being nearly 4,000 miles away limits how much they can do.

“What’s hard for us is we’re not able to be there for our loved ones,” said Hasnaa Chadi, 36, an events planner who lives in Arlington. Chadi has relatives in Casablanca and friends in cities across Morocco with whom she has been in contact with regularly since the disaster struck. What is needed, they tell her, are blankets and tents, flashlights and food, diapers and baby formula. Supplies to help the thousands of people now without homes survive as a rainy season approaches and provide shelter until rebuilding can begin.

How to donate to earthquake survivors in Morocco

Chadi and other Moroccans in the D.C. region have connected on Facebook pages and Instagram to organize efforts. They created a list of items to purchase and expect to send a small shipment of supplies this week.

“Our community here is very connected and strong, and people are just trying to help with whatever they have,” Chadi said. “So as soon as we ask for help, I feel like we do get a very big response from so many people.”

Youssef Zeroual, a Realtor who lives in Fairfax County and has relatives in Casablanca, helps run a Facebook page for Moroccans living in the Washington region. He posted an appeal for help last weekend, and the replies arrived immediately, he said.

“It’s been amazing, the response,” Zeroual said. “People are ready to give stuff, clothes, food, money.”

Footage from Rabat, Morocco, taken on Sept. 9 shows the widespread damage a deadly 6.8-magnitude earthquake caused the previous day. (Video: Agencia EFE)

But Chadi acknowledged the recovery will be long and arduous.

The massive earthquake struck in the High Atlas Mountains, in central Morocco, and destroyed rural towns and villages that are difficult to reach. More than 2,800 people were killed, with many more still missing and unaccounted for. Houses and walls continue to collapse and many roads are impassable. Schools and shops were destroyed. Even some buildings that are still standing are uninhabitable, because it’s unknown whether they are structurally sound.

‘The world is done for me’: This Moroccan family lost everything in the quake

The calamity in a country so close to their hearts has led to sleepless nights and even guilt about not being there in person to help out, said Hajar, 37, who lives in Northern Virginia and spoke on the condition that her last name not be used to protect her privacy. Hajar’s family in Casablanca is safe, she said, but the child of her brother’s friend was killed. She knows others who have lost their homes.

“My heart is aching,” she said, “and I’m just praying for the victims and their families, for the wounded to be healed, for the missing to be found, and for the country to have a good recovery from such a tragedy.”

Moroccans and Moroccan-Americans in the Washington region are holding fundraisers at community centers and mosques and trying to share information about the most urgent needs for those displaced, injured or orphaned by the earthquake. The Islamic Community Center of Potomac has a large proportion of Moroccan members and is raising funds to send directly to people and aid organizations working in the affected areas, said Rumman Khan, the center’s president.

Traveling to Morocco? What to know about earthquake’s impact.

Mohamed Anas Benzari was teaching the Quran at the center on Friday night when he heard the news about the earthquake. Benzari, who was born in Northern Virginia but grew up in Morocco, immediately reached out to an uncle in Marrakesh to make sure he was okay. He was.

“I’m glad that my family are safe, but I’m worried about those people who are still really in need of help,” Benzari said. “We are trying to help them as much as possible because that is our mission.” Benzari was scheduled to meet at the Moroccan embassy in Washington with other organizations Wednesday to plan the best way to get money, medical supplies, blankets and other goods to those most in need.

As difficult as the past few days have been, Moroccans in the area expressed confidence that their country would recover from the disaster.

“I cried when I heard this news,” said Abdelziz Rhomari, 63, who owns Fettoosh, a popular Moroccan restaurant in Arlington. “Kids lost their parents. One woman lost all of her children and her husband. It is very sad.”

But Rhomari, who grew up in Rabat, said he was not despondent.

“I’m hoping this part of my country will heal very fast and get to normal,” he said. “Moroccans are very strong people, and I’m sure that we are all together and we will be together, like our king said. Together, we’re going to fight and be successful.”


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