SINGAPORE – Four hours after checking into a hotel overlooking the majestic Atlas Mountains in Morocco, Singaporean gym owner Irving Henson felt the building sway, and furniture started flying across the room.
The lighting fixtures, too, fell to the floor when violent tremors struck on Friday night, said Mr Henson, 45, who was travelling alone.
“It felt like there was a train running over and under the room,” he said.
Without stopping to think, Mr Henson grabbed his chain and crucifix and got out of the building. It was only his first day in Morocco.
He said: “I wasn’t thinking straight and tried calling reception but obviously, nobody answered.”
Six hours earlier, at 6.45pm, he had arrived in Marrakesh, and drove two hours to his hotel Kasbah Tamadot, in the outskirts of the city.
Marrakesh was hit on Friday night by a 6.8-magnitude tremor – the biggest to hit Morocco in more than a century. More than 2,000 people have died, and rescue workers are racing against time to find survivors.
The first thing Mr Henson did when he got a signal on his cellphone was to send WhatsApp text messages to his 18-year-old son. “I love you, son. Just wanted you to know,” said the messages.
When he went to the hotel reception area, he saw debris everywhere. Guests were milling about outside – some were screaming, several others were crying, he said.
Only one woman – whose name he later learnt was Maya – appeared calm and composed. She was from California, Mr Henson said, and had experienced earthquakes before. She suggested that everyone wait it out at the hotel’s tennis court, a safe open space. Hotel staff quickly provided blankets and water.
The next morning, Mr Henson could see that the hotel was in shambles, as were the surrounding areas down in the valley.
There were no flights leaving Marrakesh so Mr Henson’s travel agent Adam Ang from Intriq Journey helped to get the hotel to arrange for a driver to take him to Casablanca, about 300km away, and about five hours by car.
From there, Mr Henson took a flight to Bordeaux in France after Mr Ang bought the tickets for him.
The aftermath of the quake could be seen everywhere during the drive to the airport, said Mr Henson, including collapsed apartment buildings, and people carrying dead bodies.
A guide who Mr Henson had arranged to trek with informed him later that there were many casualties from the villages in the Atlas Mountains.
Mr Henson, who is now staying with a friend in Bordeaux before going to Britain to visit friends and family, said he was lucky to make it out alive. He is also planning to visit the popular Catholic shrine of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes – about a three-hour drive from Bordeaux – to offer thanksgiving prayers.
He said: “It is hard to describe my emotions right now, to be honest. I’m glad that I’m safe and I’m sad for the people affected by the quake.
“I hope people back home realise how fortunate we are to be living in Singapore.”
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