U.S. religious groups rush aid to quake-stricken Morocco

U.S. religious groups rush aid to quake-stricken Morocco

American religious organizations are rushing aid to victims of the magnitude 6.8 earthquake that struck late Friday night about 45 miles southwest of Marrakech, Morocco.

Moroccan state television says 2,862 have died and 2,562 have been reported injured. Because many of the most affected areas are in the High Atlas Mountain region, however, it may be days before a final tally is reached.

Jason Cox, vice president of international ministry for Atlanta-based Send Relief was in Athens at the time the earthquake struck.

Speaking from Marrakech, he said an initial trip Monday into mountain villages “was a discovery trip, just to begin to do an on-the-ground assessment” of what was needed.

“We have a worldwide network of partners that allows us to respond pretty quickly to a number of crises like this around the world,” he said. “We were able to do it in Ukraine last year, we were able to do it in the Turkey/Syria earthquake earlier this year, and the same here in Morocco. Because of those local partners, we’re able to respond really, really quickly.”

Mr. Cox said Send Relief — a joint venture of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International and North American mission boards — will initially work to “meet the immediate needs” of food and water, but also to evaluate longer-term requirements.

“One thing people don’t realize is that it gets really cold at night in the mountains,” he said. “And so even now in late summer, people are wanting blankets. Electricity is a big issue because these villages have been destroyed and they shut off electricity altogether.”

Mr. Cox said the reality on the ground is harsher than news photos might suggest.

“You can see pictures but until you’re there and you see these concrete-and-rebar reinforced buildings just flattened, or five-story buildings flatten on top of themselves, this is not something people can just recover from quickly. They need housing and winter’s coming and it gets freezing in these places.”

Islamic Relief USA also has staff on-site in Morocco, assessing needs and “identifying local humanitarian organizations to work with to deliver vital aid. Food, shelter, and health care are expected to be the most urgent needs.”

The U.S.-based nonprofit is accepting donations on its website.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC, has been in Morocco since 1947, Michael Geller, senior director of global communications, said in a telephone interview Monday. JDC representatives in Casablanca, a Moroccan city unaffected by the temblor, went to Marrakech to survey the damage and prepare for long-term efforts.

Mr. Geller said that of the 120 Jews known to be living in Marrakech, only two families lost their homes. He said decades of JDC relief efforts have made the charity’s workers a familiar presence in in the majority Muslim nation.

With the earthquake coming on the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and the 10-day period of introspection culminating in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Mr. Geller said the season’s tradition of charitable giving makes this an opportune time for Jews in the United States to donate to the JDC’s relief efforts.

Mr. Cox said that while Christian faith motivates the efforts of Send Relief, providing help in Morocco is a charitable endeavor and not a pretext for proselytizing.

“This is not an evangelistic effort,” he said. “But we believe that if we follow the example of Jesus, and have compassion, true compassion on other people in their time of need, that will have a positive impact on them. So it is not an evangelistic effort, but we’re very open about who we are. And we believe that everything that we’re doing reflects only reflects Christ in us.”