Journalist and adventurer Alice Morrison describes the moment a devastating earthquake struck the Moroccan village she now calls home. She tells The Herald of the moment of sheer terror it struck and describes how villagers are trying to survive day to day.

I was in a deep sleep when I was startled awake by a loud, violent banging sound. It was as if my little house had been picked up and was being shaken by a giant. I knew instinctively it was an earthquake. I jumped out of bed as the walls moved in and out towards me. I had seen it before in nightmares but this was real. It took me agonizing seconds to unlock the front door and run into our communal yard. I was barefoot and in a thin nightie. The ground under my feet was rolling and bucking. On my left were the tall houses of my neighbours built into the mountain and on my right a drop down to the valley through the walnut trees. A crack opened up in the ground. It was pitch black. There was a moment of deadly quiet as the banging and rocking stopped. I felt sheer terror. I thought I was going to die.

Then, the voices of my neighbours called out, ‘Allah, Allah’ and they started running down the stairs to the yard. We congregated together. The women and children were all crying. Gathered as one, we started walking down the mountain to the car park and relative safety. Fatma and I went down arm in arm, her whole body was shaking uncontrollably. We huddled for warmth, sitting on the ground. The men did a quick raid on the closest houses to bring us blankets and water. The whole village stayed there waiting for dawn.

The Herald: Day one when the only way out of Imlil, a small Amazigh (Berber) village in the Atlas Mountains, was on foot.Day one when the only way out of Imlil, a small Amazigh (Berber) village in the Atlas Mountains, was on foot. (Image: Alice Morrison)

I came to live in Imlil, a small Amazigh (Berber) village in the Atlas Mountains, five years ago. I am an adventurer and writer and the mountains provide rich material. Imlil is the main hiking and trekking centre of the High Atlas and the starting point for Mount Toubkal (4167m), the highest peak in North Africa. My house is in a family compound where the youngest is two and the oldest is 100. There are four couples living here with their children and me and at any time we number around 20 souls. The cows and chickens live under my house which looks out onto the peaks. I have been adopted as a kind of crazy auntie or sister and have come to truly love these gentle, kind, funny people I share a home with.

Over three thousand were dead and whole villages collapsed in the valley beyond with many still trapped beneath the rubble.

At first light we all walked back up to see the houses. My tiny, concrete home was untouched but my neighbours had cracks and fissures running up their walls. We had no electricity or mobile phone signal and the road into us was blocked by debris. We knew that all were safe in our village but we had no idea of the horror beyond.

Over three thousand were dead and whole villages collapsed in the valley beyond with many still trapped beneath the rubble.

In our bubble there were a few hours of strange calm. I fed my cats who seemed unshaken, washed quickly in case we were caught in another tremor and then slept. Then, I got my bike out to see if I could get down the mountain to the nearest town, Asni, about 16km away to get signal and find out what was happening.

The Herald: An earthquake survivor standing among the rubble with just a few belongings.An earthquake survivor standing among the rubble with just a few belongings. (Image: Getty)

The road was apocalyptic. Massive boulders had been spewed up by the mountain and were scattered along it.  A landslide of trees and earth completely blocked it at one point. There were ominous white skid marks on the tarmac where cars had obviously been caught in the quake. I saw vehicles semi-buried.

The only way out was on foot, four legs or two wheels. There were streams of people and mules picking their way over and around the rocks and trees. It took me three hours to cycle down just 16km. I realised that something catastrophic had happened. When I got signal back and started to get calls and information, I began to understand how big the earthquake was.

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That night, I had cycled and pushed my bike back up the mountain in the dark, praying that no more tremors would come while I was under the fragile rockfaces. I brought my community more news from below. None of it was good. Everyone wanted to see my pictures from the road and to see if I had news from the villages along the route.

Here, male/female roles are strongly delineated, and the man’s job is to take care of the women. It may seem totally sexist and perhaps unacceptable to some but for me on that night it was a blessing. The men from our compound had put up two big tents (one for each gender) in the car park. We had mats and blankets, solar lights and cushions. I snuggled in with all the other women and the children. The men passed in an enormous bowl of pasta. After we had eaten and the girls had prayed, we settled down for the night. The comfort of being with other humans is inestimable. I slept deeply.

The Herald: Despite the devastation, villagers' spirit remains strong in the aftermath.Despite the devastation, villagers' spirit remains strong in the aftermath. (Image: Alice Morrison)

Over the next few days, I cycled and hitched lifts around the valleys. In Ouirgane, I saw the rows of houses reduced to earth. Men were standing on top digging out anything that could be salvaged. Pitiful bundles of pots, buckets and mattresses were piled up outside what had been front doors. I met survivors and those who had lost their families. What do you say to a woman who is still waiting for her son and her father’s bodies to be pulled out? A woman who had buried her mother that morning? I know the correct Arabic words but they are not enough. I pulled her to me and cried with her but whether for her relief or mine I cannot truthfully say. It was an honest human emotion but it is very hard to be of comfort to someone who is enduring such loss.

Support and aid came in quickly. The road to the stricken area was cleared and ambulances and the army and police moved in to help. The task was enormous. In Asni which is usually a sleepy market town where we do our shopping at the weekly market, tented camps were set up for the homeless and a military hospital was established. However, the geography made it a logistical nightmare to get to all the damaged villages. This area of Morocco is not unlike the Highlands. It is characterised by high peaks and small scattered communities with one road into main centres. Many hamlets lie one or two days walk away from a road. The outlying villages had to be reached on foot or by helicopter and the main road into the area soon became clogged with traffic.

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God is everywhere in Morocco. People in this region are devout and practising Muslims. Every morning when I am patted awake for breakfast by my demanding cats, I see the men of the compound walking down to dawn prayers. That faith has underpinned the reaction to the disaster and been the people’s greatest comfort. ‘Thanks be to God’, ‘We are in the hands of God’, ‘May God keep you safe’ are the phrases I said and heard over and over again. It is a form of deep acceptance that we find difficult to understand in the West.

Anyone who has visited Morocco talks about the hospitality they received. That springs from Islam and also the innate sense of community. I have felt it every day as I have been cared for like a family member and it is one of the things that is supporting the people through this time.

In Asni on Sunday, I went to sit and rest in the shade behind a row of tents that had been set up for the homeless. A child was singing Frère Jacques and banging a stick on a plastic stool as accompaniment. A man was brewing up sweet tea, ‘Ashkid, come, come,’ he beckoned me over. When I asked him how he was he told me that his family was safe but he had lost his house. ‘Drink, drink,’ he said, ‘You are welcome here. May you be healthy and find rest.’

Now, a week later, we are all looking forward to reconstruction and the restoration of tourism in this area. My friends all tell me the same thing, Rachid Imerhane, the head of the mountain guides said, ‘We need the tourists to come back. We are safe and this area is safe. We want to bring back the visitors or we will suffer more.’

The Herald: Adventurer Alice Morrison has been living in Morocco for the past five yearsAdventurer Alice Morrison has been living in Morocco for the past five years (Image: Alice Morrison)

My neighbours are still scared to return to their cracked houses and are in tents at night. I have come back into my home, desperate for some rest. In the mornings, the women come to feed the cows and chickens and I make them Moroccan tea and Scottish drop scones. ‘I am so desperate to come home,’ Rachida tells me. ‘I miss my home.’

We are all emotionally and physically exhausted. I am so grateful and happy that I am alive and everyone in my village is alive but I haven’t really come to terms with what has happened even though I have seen it with my own eyes. I have discovered that there is a kind of drama and excitement that gets you through the first days but now the adrenaline hangover has really set in. I hope that in the coming weeks and months our lives can return to normal and that I can be a useful part of this mountain community.

Donations for reconstruction will be gratefully received at