A Saffron Walden tourist was on holiday in Marrakesh when a devastating earthquake hit, killing more than 2,400 people.

Nici Van Valen, 58, went to Morocco with friend Kim Baccarrini from Saturday, September 2 to Saturday, September 9, enjoying a "lovely holiday" before the earthquake.

She said: "It was my first time in Morocco. It was a lovely holiday, the Moroccan people were amazing - I have nothing negative to say about it."

On their final night, Friday, September 8, Nici went to bed at 10.30pm with her suitcase already packed for their departure the following morning.

Saffron Walden Reporter: The pool area of Nici's hotel in MarrakeshThe pool area of Nici's hotel in Marrakesh (Image: Nici Van Valen)

"I was woken by a sound like a plane taking off, but magnified," she said. "My brain couldn't quite compute what it was.

"The ground was moving. I thought 'there's nothing else this could be except an earthquake'."

Nici and Kim ran out into the hotel grounds, where people were falling over as the ground shook.

She said: "It was terrible. At that moment I thought 'this is how I die'.

"People came screaming round from the pool area, soaking wet. There had been a pool party and they'd had a lot to drink.

"It went black, the lights were off and we were cut off from the rest of the world - it was like Armageddon."

The hotel guests were told to evacuate the building, and were left with no electricity or internet until the emergency generators kicked in.

Nici said: "It was just hell on earth."

After about four hours they had access to WiFi, and Nici was able to leave a message for her son's father - who lives in Italy - as she did not want to worry her son by waking him.

A mother and daughter staying at Nici's hotel were hit by falling bricks from the hotel building, and had to be hospitalised.

Eventually, Nici and her friend were able to get their bags from the hotel and make their flight home.

Nici said: "We paid a fortune to get a taxi to the airport. What we saw on the way was just awful.


"We saw people just sleeping in the street with their kids. There was rubble everywhere, and pink dust from the mountains.

"At the airport people were begging for tickets for their kids to get out. It was just pandemonium.

"When we went through the duty-free shops bottles of booze and perfume were just smashed everywhere."

When they get back to London they learned the extent of the earthquake's death toll - with more than 2,400 people killed and the same number injured.

Named the Marrakesh-Safi earthquake, it is the strongest instrumentally-recorded earthquake in Morocco, and the deadliest in the country's history.

Nici's hotel was 45 miles away from the epicentre, which was near the town of Ighil in the Atlas Mountains.

She said: "We are just so thankful to be alive, and feeling so sad for the people who died.

"It was just a matter of where you were. It's changed my perspective on everything."