‘I know I’m lucky to be alive’: Morocco travel insider says country will rebuild tourism in wake of earthquake

The British man who has done more than anyone else to build tourism in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains says he is “lucky to be alive” after he was caught up in Friday’s catastrophic earthquake.

But some students attending the schools in the area he helped to establish have died.

Mike McHugo is a visionary entrepreneur who transformed an ancient fort 60km south of Marrakech into a sought-after eco-lodge known as the Kasbah du Toubkal. It is located in the foothills of North Africa’s highest mountain, Toubkal, above the village of Imlil.

He was in bed in the property at 11.11pm on Friday when the earthquake struck.

“I was woken up and I knew instantly it was an earthquake. I was in a room with my brother and I knew we couldn’t get out because we’re in a downstairs bedroom and stuff was falling around. I just told him to get under the bed or close to the bed.

“The whole building held up and then I got myself out and began looking after our guests and did roll calls.

“None of our staff or any of our guests were harmed.

“Then we slept the night out out in the open to keep away from any secondary shocks.

“In the morning we took stock and looked after our clients.

“The old kasbah itself has been badly damaged and will probably need to be rebuilt as opposed to repaired. But the [new-built] rooms have held up remarkably well.

“I know I’m lucky to be alive because I think if I’d been in a different place I probably wouldn’t be.”

One man’s vision: Mike McHugo at the Kasbah du Toubkal, before the earthquake

(Simon Calder)

With no road transport available, Mr McHugo then cycled to Marrakech on a folding bike.

“Now that our clients are safe, I’m concentrating on a charity I set up called Education For All Morocco,” he said. The charity provides schools for girls in the region who would otherwise have no education.

The schools, he said “are modern builds and they stood up to it” with some minor damage.

“The girls live in the most rural villages in Morocco where there’s still a lot of mud and stone for their buildings,” he said.

“The mud villages are being razed. I know for sure one of our girls is dead and their whole family have gone.”

A Berber village in the Atlas Mountains before the earthquake

(Simon Calder)

Mr McHugo is convinced that tourism will resume quickly in the region: “Life needs to go back to normal, which it will. They will rebuild and come back.”

Since the earthquake struck, he feels he has been “living on adrenaline”.

“It will probably hit me. Right now I am just trying to keep busy and be useful.”

You can donate to Education for All Morocco through Globalgiving

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