Tizi N’test, Morocco – Deep in the remote Atlas Mountains, hotel owner Hamza Boumazough was an unexpected hero for a British woman trying to find her father, a cyclist who died in the powerful earthquake that struck Morocco.
Boumazough, who owns the mountaintop Hotel La Belle Vue in remote Tizi N’test, was able to find David Barden’s body amid the wreckage of the temblor.
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“I’m overwhelmed by the actions of Hamza, who really was a lifeline to me for finding my dad,” Barden’s daughter Sarah told Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker.
David, who was on a bicycle journey around the world to raise money for the Red Cross, was meant to have stayed at Boumazough’s hotel the night of the earthquake.
But he never made it up there.
Barden had stopped to rest in Cafe Sunset 8km (5 miles) away from La Belle Vue. Too tired to cycle up the mountain, he decided he would stay the night at Cafe Sunset.
It was September 8, the night the earthquake struck, its tremors making the cafe verandah collapse on top of David.
The magnitude 6.8 earthquake, which had a death toll of more than 2,900, killed 456 people around Tizi N’test alone.
“It’s so remote here, so peaceful, and yet you can see the violence of the earthquake, how it split the ground quite deeply here,” said Dekker, reporting from Tizi N’test, which she reached after four hours.
‘Like Judgement Day’
At La Belle Vue, Boumazough was awakened in the middle of the night by the quake, thinking the world was going to end. Everything shook, he told Dekker, and he lost sensation in his legs. It felt “like Judgment Day”, he said.
But he had to take care of others and managed to get his five hotel guests out of the damaged hotel, worrying the whole time for his family, who lived a bit farther down the mountain.
“I was so scared, I thought my family was gone,” he said.
Luckily, miraculously, his parents, wife and three children survived his badly damaged house.
“If I had been sleeping in this bed that night, I would have been dead,” said Boumazough, surveying the ruins the earthquake left of his home.
The hotel was also extensively damaged.
Farther down the mountain from his home, in the valley where his village is, 21 people died.
Cafe Sunset now lies in ruins, but people are sheltering in the rubble, using tarpaulins to shield themselves from rain.
Barden had told Boumazough he would be staying at the cafe the night of the quake, so when Sarah reached out to Boumazough to ask where her father could be, he knew where to check.
The cafe owner and some other locals had found David’s body the following morning.
“This is where we found him, we rushed to him but there was nothing we could do,” the cafe owner said. “It was God’s will.”
In the blog Barden wrote about his cycling journey, the last entry is from September 7, the night before the quake.
“So far on this ride through over 20 countries I’ve enjoyed both setting myself some demanding challenges and getting away from normal routines where the sequence of the day can be anticipated with few surprises,” it reads.
“Lengthy, chance conversations hearing people’s life experiences, completely outside of my own are always an enriching element of travel.”