Egil - Two weeks have passed since the earthquake in Morocco, and the seismic recording app still tells you that earthquakes have occurred here and there in the Haouz region, ranging in magnitude between 3.5 and 4.6 degrees on the Richter scale.
A situation that the residents of this stricken area seem to be used to, and they told us that they feel these light tremors almost every other day, but their presence inside the tents gives them some reassurance.
The director of the National Institute of Geophysics, Nasser Jabbour, tells us that thousands of aftershocks are recorded in the areas hit by the earthquake, and explains that they used to occur daily, then every two days, and over time they began to diverge, and will continue at this pace for a period of time.
But its continuation does not cause panic, as our interviewer confirms that its degree is light, and that most of it is not felt by humans, but rather needs advanced devices to record it.
However, what is dangerous about these tremors – as some residents of the roundabouts of Imkadal, Tansket and Aghbar have explained to us – is that they remind them of the nightmare they lived through two weeks ago.
Despite the arrival of almost endless popular and official aid, and despite the imminent receipt of monthly financial compensation and their knowledge of the state's plan to rebuild their homes, the specter of what happened on the eighth of this month still hangs over them.
Under these circumstances, we had to trace the earthquake and its aftershocks in the Haouz region, reaching its southernmost point about 150 kilometers from Marrakesh, via a narrow, unpaved road that cuts through the terrifying towering Atlas Mountains.
The mountain road that leads to the villages of Al-Hawz in the Atlas is filled with cars (Al-Jazeera)
A smooth start
To the borders of the town of Esni (55 kilometers south of Marrakesh), the road is paved and smooth, but as soon as you exit towards the town of Ouargane, welcome to an unpaved stone road, passing through it is a real adventure on ordinary days, let alone days when the ghosts of a violent earthquake still hover in every mountain section you see, and in every village you pass through.
We set off from Marrakech, with the distance to dust in about four hours, as the applications of new technology tell us, with eyes on those who withstood an earthquake described as the earthquake of the century.
As soon as we passed Ouergane (63 kilometers south of Marrakesh), the road began to narrow ahead, and it got even more crowded as we penetrated deep into the fearsome Atlas Mountains. Gendarmerie and security personnel are distributed here and there in all dangerous axes, organizing traffic on a mountain road through which only one car is supposed to pass, so how about two and three cars, and large trucks.
We travel a few meters, then the security men stop us to let those coming from the opposite side to pass, and then we travel another meter after the security men allow us to pass after their comrades have stopped those coming from there.
When everyone hears the sound of an ambulance, truck and car drivers rush to the side to make way, while security personnel work hard to help paramedics pass safely.
Motorists deviate slightly with their hearts too hard to slide their vehicles down this deadly mountain slope, where the car will stop – if it slips – only at the bottom of that deep valley.
Passing through mountain roads is risky (island)
The road seemed long with many stops in response to the orders of the security men standing in the heat of the sun since the morning, keen to prevent traffic until after their comrades in the opposite axes assured them that the mountain road is passable.
In addition to the severe congestion on this rugged mountain road, from time to time huge stones slide from the top of these towering mountains, and cut the road, prompting the men of authority to direct the huge vehicles of these axes to open the way for drivers.
It seemed terrifying to the drivers, as they discovered that the situation was very difficult after they had traveled so far and that there were strong chances that those huge stones would fall on them while they were trapped, unable to turn back, nor move forward.
The captives are released after the security man gestures with his hand to advance a few meters forward, and in the eye and heart the wish is to finally open the road completely, but hey, after a few more meters we are forced to stop again until the bulldozers finish opening the road and throwing the falling stones into the slope.
This state of movement and stopping continued until the village of Ijoukak (about 95 kilometers south of Marrakesh), where the throats dried up, and the hearts reached the throats, fearing that huge rocks might fall on us and throw us into the bottom of the valley, or that a traffic accident would occur – God forbid – on this narrow road in which you can only stay where you are, and surrender your matter to fate.
In the midst of this strange painting, a number of villagers from the remote roundabouts we passed spread out on the edge of the road watching these "trapped" people on this narrow mountain road, who supposedly came to their aid!
The roundabouts are scattered along the way, seeming to hang there at the mountain peaks opposite the mountain road where we stop more than we move.
The Ijokak roundabout appeared destroyed and sad, its houses destroyed, and the rubble of stones sprawled on the narrow road that crosses it, while the gendarmes deployed with members of the Auxiliary Forces (a security apparatus) to organize traffic, maintain security, and help those who came to provide support.
The scene was even harsher in the village of Ttalat Niacoub (about 100 kilometers south of Marrakesh), one of the villages most affected by the earthquake. Her houses seemed completely destroyed, as did her simple shops, and amid all the rubble spread the bodies of some animals.
Despite all this, you can hardly hear from its residents except the praise of God Almighty.
Small roundabouts scattered in the arms of the Atlas Mountains (island)
Eye of the earthquake
While some aid trucks stopped to unload their cargo for the benefit of the residents of this stricken village, we continued on the road towards Agil, the epicenter of the earthquake, its eye and heart, this small village that until before the eighth of this month was safe and reassuring that only its people know, and now it is remembered by everyone who follows the terrifying Al-Hawz earthquake and its repercussions.
You may assume that you will rest from the fatigue of the dangerous and narrow mountain road when you reach the village of Egil, but what happened is the opposite, as those who reach it feel a strange psychological weight, when they see these meek village faces topped with sadness and oppression over the loss of those who have left, and the destruction of their homes and the loss of their property, and here they find themselves inside tents brought by support crews.
The sense of gravity increases when you imagine that beneath this spot, at a depth of a few kilometers, terrifying plates moved days earlier, creating the earthquake of the century that destroyed everything in its path.
People in Egil talk about painful stories and facts, a terrifying sound suddenly flooded the place at night, followed by the rapid collapse of houses built of mud and stone, and in the midst of complete darkness, voices and screams were heard everywhere, which quickly faded and fell silent forever.
Those who survived tried to help rescue the victims by rudimentary means, the lights of simple phones and batteries.
As you delve into the Agil roundabout, you hear stories and tales whose details vary, but they are similar in that they are a real tragedy drawn violently by the earthquake that bore the name of the village.
Here members of the same family were killed, a little girl survived while the rest of her family passed to the mercy of God, and there the head of a family was killed along with two of his children.
Stones that fell from the mountains during the earthquake cut the road several times (Island)
Between the mountains
We set off away from Ain al-Zalzal towards Aghbar roundabout, one of the remote points in the south of the Al-Haouz region, and that great awe is still attached to our hearts despite the gradual distancing, as Egil is no longer the name of a remote village in the Atlas Mountains, but has become a symbol of great destruction.
The narrow mountain road swallowed us again, and as it continued to be narrow, and the dangers of huge stones falling on cars were renewed, we began to forget the dread of Egil, and we drowned in a new awe, this time reduced to the fact that the road became higher as we climbed through the mountains we cross.
At the top of that mountain opposite us shows a barely visible line, crossed by cars – looking like moving points – carrying aid to villages on the Atlas peaks, and at the bottom there is a slope whose bottom is not visible, and here inside the car a driver is starting to rage in anger, not only at his acceptance of this adventure, but at the neglect of this area by officials for decades.
"It is a tourist area that can bring millions of tourists to Morocco every year, so how is it possible that this road has remained unnoticed for all these decades," he shouts angrily, before adding, "But how do people live in these hanging places, why do they insist on staying here?"
The biggest danger on the mountain road is the sudden falling of huge stones (island)
In these peaks of space, citizens who have chosen to cling to the land where they found their ancestors live, never think of leaving it under any circumstances.
After covering about 125 kilometers of this impossible road, we finally reached two crossroads: one leads to villages and roundabouts towards the city of Taroudant (268 kilometers south of Marrakesh), while this narrow road on the right and sloping towards the foot of the mountain, leads to the Agbar roundabout, some of which we have told is only about 70 kilometers from Taroudant.
The car descended into a narrow and dangerous slide, leaving behind several cars and pickup trucks still carrying aid from everywhere in Morocco, and others coming from below after unloading at one point on the road.
In more than one place, we were surprised by the presence of water springs that recently erupted after the earthquake, and their water spread in the place.
Some drivers stopped to fill their empty bottles with this "blessed water", while German doctor Thomas, who came to help the earthquake victims, assured us that it is inconceivable that people should drink such water before experts have made sure it is safe to drink.
It may be saturated with minerals or impurities that affect human health, so the doctor advised people to be careful and avoid drinking this water while waiting for a green light from the competent authorities.
Some houses of Dust Roundabout that have not been demolished (Al Jazeera)
The minutes passed, heavy as we crossed the road, and whenever we passed a crowd, we asked them about the Agbar roundabout, and they told us that it was nearby there below.
Someone told us, "It's only about four kilometers from this place," but what happened was that we traveled four, six, even ten or even 15 kilometers without seeming to get close to him!
It was dark, the road became more difficult and dangerous, the cars turned on their lights, and we only saw lamps coming up from the bottom of the mountain, and others coming down to it.
We finally arrived at Douar Agbar, about 150 kilometers from Marrakesh at the southernmost point of the Haouz region.
It seemed roundabout mired in darkness, here a simple almost empty shop selling some canned goods and some cheap sweets that children buy, with a man in his sixties with wrinkles covering his face, he seemed energetic as he hurried to meet the requests of his customers, most of whom this evening came to help and maintain security.
In addition to the shop, a narrow pharmacy closed its doors, and in front of it, some residents of the roundabout spread out collecting the aid that arrived, and sorting it to distribute it to the residents of the scattered houses at the top and bottom of the mountain.
A simple shop in Agbar roundabout (Al Jazeera)
They assured us that they are very grateful to everyone who helped them, or came to check on them in this isolated area, and explained in Moroccan dialect mixed with Amazigh words that aid reaches all the residents of the roundabout fairly and regularly.
Besides them, some security men were deployed to help, and to make way for a narrow road – akin to an alley – for cars that come to the roundabout, and those that leave it.
We stopped here at the Agbar roundabout after a long journey that required hours, at a time when the earthquake had cut a longer route stretching from the city of Agadir to the southern regions of Spain, in less than ten seconds.
The roundabout is also plunging into total darkness after the electricity infrastructure was damaged by the quake, which authorities have struggled to restore to service.
We stood in this complete darkness contemplating the greatness of these terrifying mountains that surround us from all sides, and suddenly my escort, terrified by the thought of spending the night here in the open, shouted that we should return to Marrakesh.
Pharmacy in Douar Agbar (Al Jazeera)
This means that we would travel again another 150 kilometers, most of which is a stone mountain road, and if the passing car had veered a few times, it would have stopped only at a bottom that the eyes could not perceive in this complete darkness, as we are only about two hours away from midnight.
We agreed to return and go through the adventure again, to complete the image in the eye of the reader of Al Jazeera Net, and live with us the experience of passing through a dark road hanging between the peaks of the Atlas Mountains towering, scattered with stones that fell and almost prevent passage in them, and we fear that falling and leaving new victims added to the list of earthquake victims.
When we reached the top of the mountain overlooking the Agbar roundabout, we asked the driver of a pickup truck carrying aid to the roundabouts of the area: Is the road clear to Marrakesh, and we told him of our fears and that we had thought of heading south towards Taroudant.
He strongly advised us to avoid choosing that route, and told us that it was impossible to pass through it in this darkness, and told us about his great suffering with his companion when they passed through it a few hours ago.
So we chose, under the weight of fear, to return from the road that had accompanied us for more than eight hours to Agbar, tell the truck driver what he needed to know about it, and turn back.
Return via the mountain road at night to Marrakech is a perilous journey (island)
The minutes passed, heavy and long, and then the hours, and silence prevailed inside the car, and the prisoners did not release until after seeing a few cars also returning to Marrakech, which in such difficult situations seems a blessing to the trembling hearts.
We traveled the road quickly, it is now empty of curious people and visitors, leaving only paramedics and those carrying aid, and soon we reached Egil, and the feeling of awe of the place is returning to us again.
After about three hours, we ended up on the paved road, not believing that we had finally realized it, and the lights of the city of Tahannaout, which flashed from afar, put a smile on our faces again.
We arrived in Marrakech at around two in the morning, leaving our hearts behind there at the peaks of the Atlas Mountains, with people who will spend their nights in tents, waiting for their homes that were destroyed by an earthquake that forever changed their area.