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As death toll rises, Moroccan Americans in L.A. react to devastating Marrakech earthquake

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Moroccan Americans across Southern California rallied together and expressed support Saturday in the wake of the deadly magnitude 6.8 earthquake that struck the historic city of Marrakech and surrounding villages.

By Saturday afternoon, the death toll from the Friday quake had risen to more than 2,000 with 2,000 more injured, officials said. The epicenter was in the High Atlas Mountains, about 45 miles southwest of Marrakech, a major economic center and popular tourist city of about 900,000 people.

“What a devastation,” said Anis Habib, owner of Casablanca Moroccan Kitchens, a Moroccan restaurant in Hollywood.

Habib said Moroccan Americans gathered at the restaurant after news of the earthquake broke, using the communal space to reminisce, vent and remember home.

“Everybody’s asking, ‘How can we help?’ We’ve been reaching out to NGOs in Europe to find ways to chip in. Send money or water, whatever we can do,” he said. “Everybody is Moroccan right now.”

Habib’s wife, Naimi, is originally from Marrakech. Her family still lives there. None of her relatives were injured, but their home was damaged.

“Moroccans are strong,” he said. “Rebuilding will be easy. Remembering those who died will be the hardest part.”

The earthquake was the biggest to hit the country in 120 years, toppling buildings not designed to withstand such powerful shaking. In Marrakech, infrastructure dating to the 12th century was damaged or destroyed.

Said Lakhlifi, 59, traded text messages over WhatsApp with a friend in Morocco on Friday night when the earthquake struck.

The messaging app became indispensable as the temblor downed phone lines.

“At that moment, I called to check on my parents, my brothers and sisters back home,” said Lakhlifi, a Los Angeles resident. “I have a brother who lives in Marrakech. It took him some time to get back to me. I was worried about him, but thank God he finally called me and said that he was good.”

All of Lakhlifi’s family and friends escaped the earthquake unharmed, he said, but some of their homes had minor damage.

Lakhlifi, who grew up in Morocco before immigrating to California in 1989, serves as the chair and president of the Moroccan American Assn. of California.

The organization started in the early 1990s. Since then, it has hosted several cultural events over the years while offering charitable and social help to the local Moroccan American community.

With news of the earthquake, the association held a series of emergency meetings Saturday to coordinate relief efforts with larger organizations across the United States.

Lakhlifi’s group is looking to send food and money back to Morocco to help with the rebuilding effort.

“We feel bad for all the people that have died, for those that have lost loved ones,” Lakhlifi said. “The real work starts now. As Moroccans, we have to do our part. We have to help as much as we can.”

Others offered words of support on social media. The Instagram account Moroccans in L.A. on Saturday posted the message, “Praying for our Morocco.”

Los Angeles County Supervising Fire Dispatcher Ed Pickett said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has alerted the county Fire Department, but that the State Department hasn’t made an official request for aid.

“We’re on alert, but we haven’t been officially requested,” Pickett said.

That request could come as soon as Sunday morning.

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