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Moroccans in the earthquake-hit tourist area mourn their losses and worry about the future

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By Ahmed Eljechtimi

OUIRGANE VALLEY, Morocco (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – The Kasbah La Dame Bija guesthouse in Morocco’s picturesque Ouirgane Valley was unscathed by an earthquake that devastated the area, but the owner’s bookings have plummeted and he worries if the region can relaunch its tourist attraction.

“The earthquake killed people and destroyed villages on which our tourism business depends,” said Abderrahim Bouchbouk, owner of the nine-room guesthouse once run by his grandfather.

Addressing the human tragedy of the September 8 earthquake that killed more than 2,900 people is everyone’s immediate concern, but for a region that relied on tourists walking along beautiful valleys and mountain passes, purchasing local handicrafts or visiting sites Now devastated, the economic future looks bleak.

“No tourists, no work, no income,” said Mohamed Aznag, a waiter at a bar in the destroyed village of Tasa Ouirgane, who lost his daughter in the earthquake and now fears for his livelihood on which he supported the rest of his family.

He spoke while looking at the ruins of the Dar Izergane guesthouse, which collapsed in the earthquake, near the damaged and now empty bar where he works.

Entire villages, many of them dominated by homes and buildings made of mud bricks, collapsed into mounds of earth when the 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck, burying those inside and destroying businesses in a region that depended on tourist routes.

Tourism provided vital extra income for many, with few other work opportunities beyond cultivating the land on small farms.

“This has been a way for many local farmers to get additional income,” said Bouchbouk, whose guesthouse Kasbah La Dame employs 14 people.

Ahmed Bassim, a tour guide in the Ouirgane area who was forced to live in a tent to shelter from the earthquake, said the region was in desperate need of reconstruction. “But I hope tourists will still come to visit us in solidarity with us,” she said.

The region, one of Morocco’s poorest, is located near Marrakech, a popular tourist destination with luxury hotels, trendy shopping malls and a historic souk.

Many hope that plans for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meeting, scheduled for October 9-15 in Marrakech, will not be disrupted by the earthquake.

Lahcen Zelmat, head of Morocco’s tourism industry federation, said the long-planned event “would be an opportunity for Morocco to promote the Marrakech destination again after the earthquake.”

(edited by Edmund Blair)

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