The British owner of a hotel in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, a region popular with trekkers, has told how he fears for the lives of hundreds of schoolgirls supported by a charity he founded following last week’s earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people.
Mike McHugo launched the charity Education for All, which is backed by several operators in the UK, including Intrepid, in2007. It built and manages six boarding houses in the Atlas mountains to provide accommodation for around 250 girls so they can attend school.
Five of the houses are understood to have sustained substantial damage in the earthquake, which struck the region about 70kms south of Marrakech just after 11pm on Friday.
None of the girls was in the houses at the time but, tragically, Mike thinks they many might have died in the remote villages where they lived with their families when not at school. He has already received confirmation that one girl and her entire family was killed.
“We fear many of our girls are dead,” he told Travel Gossip. “They might have survived had they been in our houses. They might have lived, but they might have been orphaned.”
He said the charity has been unable to reach one of the houses in the remotest area of the High Atlas Mountains to fully access the damage but he fears some of the houses will have to be demolished and rebuilt.
The Intrepid Foundation has already launched an appeal to raise funding for communities affected by the earthquake, including Education for All. It is matching donations to its foundation up to £50,000.
Mike said his hotel, the historic Kasbah du Toubkal, which is featured by several UK operators including Intrepid and Audley Travel, sustained so much damage the oldest part of the building, which contained the dining room, will have to be demolished and rebuilt.
“Thankfully all the guests and staff had left the dining room when the earthquake struck,” said Mike. “They were in their rooms, which weren’t damaged. No-one was hurt at all.”
The hotel, which is in the village of Imlil, has closed and Mike said he has no idea of when it will be able to reopen. “I’m concentrating on Education for All at the moment, trying to tell the story to get as many donations as possible because we will need a substantial sum to repair or rebuild the [boarding] houses. I will take a view on Kasbah in time.”
The rest of the buildings in Imlil, which is a popular base for trekkers in the High Atlas Mountains, did not suffer much damage and only two people were injured, said Mike.
“Imlil was relatively untouched because it has better houses than the more remote villages,” he added.
“The houses in Imlil were built using money earned by tourism, tourism has saved Imlil. It will come back to normality.”
G Adventures has cancelled five tours to areas hit by the earthquake, although some are going ahead as planned to other parts of Morocco. Intrepid hopes to resume trips later this week, with amended itineraries.
Virgin Limited Edition has temporarily closed its Kasbah Tamadot hotel, in the Atlas Mountains. The company said all staff and guests are safe.