The former lord mayor of Westminster has urged the public to give the people of Morocco a “constant source of hope” after it was struck by a rare and powerful earthquake that killed more than 1,000 people.
Councillor Hamza Taouzzale, who is of Moroccan descent and returned from his visit to the country on Thursday, said seeing the effects of the deadly earthquake unfold is “close to home”.
Mr Taouzzale, 23, told the PA news agency: “It’s close to home. That’s where my family is from and that’s where we’re originally from, and I was just there.
“It’s been quite sad, quite devastating and quite scary for a lot of people.”
Another Briton who recently returned to the UK before the earthquake struck spoke of how difficult it has been to lose friends in the natural disaster.
Ella Williams, a PhD researcher at the University of Oxford, who also lives and works as an English teacher in the town of Talat N’Yaaqoub in the Al Haouz province of Marrakesh – near the epicentre of the earthquake, said seeing the events unfold is “very hard”.
Ms Williams, 27, told PA: “I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost former students, neighbours. It’s very hard.”
She is also part of the British Moroccan Society (BMS), a charity uniting the UK with Morocco, and has set up a GoFundMe to raise money for vital aid for Moroccans.
She said that focusing on the fundraiser is helping her to get through the loss of her friends.
She said: “With the British Moroccan Society, we’re trying to just take action as soon as possible because these rural areas are so difficult to reach.
“We launched this fundraiser to try and really just get aid and get help on the ground as soon as possible.
“I think right now it’s a feeling of shock and that we have to take action.”
Mr Taouzzale has encouraged the public to provide hope for Moroccans and asked people to help where they can to provide donations and aid to the country.
He said: “I think it’s just important to remember how sudden and impactful these events are and how quickly someone’s life can turn around and change.
“I think just bearing that in mind and appreciating what we have here and being thankful for that, but also doing all we can to help out people who are in need and give them that constant source of hope.
“That’s what people rely on and that’s what people need from us, especially when we’re in a privileged position here – we should be able to help out, we should be able to give back and make a difference.”
Mr Taouzzale has friends in the city of Meknes who told him that, due to the rarity of earthquakes in the region, locals are confused and unaware of earthquake safety protocols.
He added that many are worried about re-entering their homes fearing it might collapse.
He explained: “They’ve been out on the whole night.
“I think they didn’t go back into their houses until sunrise because they didn’t know whether it was safe to do so.
“A lot of people thought there might be a second earthquake or second tremor that might happen overnight.”
During his visit, he spoke of how “beautiful” Morocco is, but acknowledged that the country’s infrastructure is unable to “withstand an earthquake”.
He said: “It’s a beautiful country with lots of things to do and the people are amazing.
“But the infrastructure isn’t that great, so if you see buildings crumbling it’s because they can’t withstand an earthquake.
“They’re not built to withstand earthquakes – It’s not an area or region that is used to having earthquakes.”
Mr Taouzzale has asked members of the public to support local Moroccan organisations and charities, particularly those that will provide aid to the country, to help those worst affected by the earthquake.
He said: “I think the best way that people can help is if you know a local Moroccan organisation or charity… there are ways to donate to people who are going to be doing that drive and making that journey down to Morocco.”
Ms Williams has also urged people to share her fundraiser to raise awareness of the situation and allow the BMS to provide aid, particularly to people in rural areas.
She said: “If people want to help and they really want to help at the grassroots level, donating or even just sharing the British Moroccan fundraiser is a really good way to help.”
Mr Williams’s fundraising page is at www.gofundme.com/f/british-moroccan-society-earthquake-appeal