***image1***In the early hours of Feb. 24, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4 struck the Al Hoceima Province in northern Morocco.
Within the next few hours, two smaller aftershocks measuring 4.3 and 4.1 magnitudes shook the remote region. Initial reports indicated more than 570 killed and 405 injured.
A large international relief effort began within the first days following the quake. Spain, France, Greece, Portugal, Libya and the United Arab Emirates were among the first countries to send much needed supplies.
On Feb. 28, the United States joined the relief effort when a U.S. Air Forces in Europe C-130 assigned to the 37th Airlift Squadron touched down at Nador Airport with four pallets of critical medical supplies and a Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team from the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany.
Within hours of the EUCOM crew touchdown, the Utah Air National Guard arrived with a full load of blankets and additional medical supplies.
The Guard’s involvement is based on a new program, the State Partnership Program, which aligns U.S. allies with a state.
Led by Army Lt. Col. Terry Hoyt, the HAST is comprised of experts in humanitarian assistance, medical, logistics and engineering. Working with the U.S. State Department’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance — the team’s mission was to determine to what extent the U.S. could contribute to the effort.
“The earthquake was pretty large in magnitude. The epicenter was located in the straights of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean Ocean,” Colonel Hoyt said. “We were fortunate in a sense that the earthquake mostly affected rural areas, the numbers of dead and injured aren’t as high as if the quake would have hit a population center.
“Our mission was to make sure that OFDA is comfortable and has the situation under control,” he added. “If there is anything else EUCOM can offer to the effort, we will do that through the proper channels.”
According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the most affected areas are rural villages near Al Hoceima, where thousands of people live in mud brick buildings unable to withstand a major tremor.
“Because the death toll is under 1,000, with 15,000 displaced families, OFDA is able to handle this situation,” Colonel Hoyt explained. “We need to be down here to ensure in fact, they don’t need EUCOM help. Had this been a huge magnitude quake similar to the one in Iran a month ago, we would have come here with much more support.”
Support to Morocco is nothing new to the U.S., said Marine Lt. Col. Charles Brady, EUCOM Humanitarian Assistance branch chief.
“Morocco is one of our closest friends and has long been an ally,” he said. “EUCOM provides more than $400,000 annually to Morocco through its Humanitarian Assistance Program. In one quick flight, we were able to provide $150,000 in essential medical and relief supplies.”
The HAST team will also determine what the U.S. can do long term.
“We will also assess what we can do when the dust settles,” Colonel Brady explained. “It could be rebuilding schools or medical clinics – this would go beyond the short-term humanitarian relief. This goes into long term planning to improve Morocco’s infrastructure.”
Morocco, a country that is 99 percent Muslim, has been one of the United States staunchest allies in the war on terror.