Marrakesh, Morocco – The few hundred residents of Ijjoukak had to wait three days for rescue after the earthquake struck the High Atlas Mountains around 11 p.m. on Friday.

By this time, Henya Bilau was already dead. Nine members of her extended family were killed that same night.

The impoverished mountain village of Ijjoukak is around two and a half hours’ drive outside the thriving tourist city of Marrakech and had little chance against the magnitude 6.8 earthquake.

Estimates vary, but it is believed that between 80 and 100 residents – about half the population – were killed. Others died while waiting for help.

Meanwhile, the villagers have no choice but to dig through the rubble and pull out the bodies of their friends, relatives and neighbors.

Henya’s children – five-year-old Youssef and two-year-old Jihan, who sleeps obliviously in the fabric cradle that hangs from her aunt’s shoulders – have yet to understand it. Youssef is happily playing with a neighbor. He has no idea what happened.

“The wall fell on Henya,” explains aunt Saida Ben Nasser. “The children were thrown out.”

Now, like hundreds of others, they are waiting in front of the University Hospital in Marrakech for the release of Henya’s mother and aunt. It is hoped that they can help look after the children.

After what feels like an eternity, Henya’s husband Omar identifies himself. He had stood at a distance and watched the conversation. When the earthquake struck, Omar was traveling and working construction in Casablanca.

In a thin and ringing voice he explains that he doesn’t know what he’s going to do. The house is ruined, he says. You can’t go anywhere.

Try to help

The hospital and its grounds are overcrowded.

Across Morocco, people are doing everything they can to help. In addition to the truckloads of first aid and emergency aid heading into the mountains, there are lines of people waiting for hours to donate blood.

Many were turned away, explains the head of the clinic, Dr. Samia el Fezzani. They already have more than they can handle.

“Immediately after the earthquake, donations tripled,” she says. “All we can do is keep it [the blood] for 42 hours, so we have to stagger delivery.”

Their staff also includes volunteers who handle everything from registration to managing the hundreds of people sitting in the center’s overflow area as well as the crowded rooms within.

Houda al-Bass, a 23-year-old office worker, violated protocol by lying on a chair and pumping blood from her arm. There are strict limits: there must be more than a month between donations. But Houda has already donated five times since the earthquake.

“My boss didn’t give me any time off, I didn’t care,” she says. “I know a lot of people from the mountains… It’s the least I can do. I couldn’t donate my money, I couldn’t donate my time. My blood is all I can give.”

Houda al-Bass says donating blood is the least she can do to help [Simon Speakman Cordall/Al Jazeera]

Royal visit

Dr. El-Fezzani hopes the disaster will be a turning point for the villagers.

She is extremely patriotic and is still going strong after serving alongside Morocco’s King Mohammed VI. was filmed. The utopian future she envisions includes new cities and roads for communities that are largely traditional and have not received the kind of investment that Morocco’s major cities receive.

When asked if this new future would have room for the past, she nods.

“The traditions are very strong,” she says, “they won’t lose them.”

Aid is increasingly arriving in remote mountain villages, but some of the worst-hit areas remain inaccessible to rescuers, leading to aid shortages and, in some places, shortages and resentment.

Since the visit of Mohammed VI. however, an increase in relief is noticeable on Tuesday. An increasing number of army trucks are queuing up in the endless traffic jams that have characterized much of the relief effort, while the number of makeshift camps and emergency clinics has increased since the royal intervention.

When asked why this procedure was necessary to provide the level of relief needed, most people remain silent.

Yet bodies still lie covered in rubble on the other side of the mountains as villagers – and domestic and international rescue workers – struggle to reach them. The dogs trained to detect the living are becoming increasingly quiet.

Mohammed Ait Alla, 31, was lucky. He and his heavily pregnant wife Nayima from the small hamlet of Sidi Rahal were able to survive the worst of the damage.

“I heard the earthquake before I felt it,” he says, describing the quiet rumble that preceded the destruction. “The lights went out and I heard people running. We also tried to run.”

Eventually an ambulance arrived, but it could only take them to the next village, where another villager drove Mohammed and Nayima to Marrakech.

Shortly afterwards she gave birth to a boy. His name is Rayan.

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