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Algerian Earthquake Kills At Least 700

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Algerian Earthquake Kills at Least 700

By HASSANE MEFTAHI

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) - Rescue workers struggled to save survivors and international aid workers rushed to Algeria on Thursday after the most devastating earthquake in two decades struck near the capital, killing more than 700 people and injuring thousands.

The 6.7-magnitude quake Wednesday night crumbled apartment houses, knocked down walls and toppled trees in the area east of Algiers. Weeping survivors walked amid debris and hospitals were choked with the injured. Many warned the death toll would increase.

``Unfortunately we have not finished establishing these increasingly tragic figures,'' Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said. ``What is worrying is that there are still many under the rubble.''

The Interior Ministry put the toll at 707 dead and more than 5,000 injured, the official APS news agency reported. The earthquake was the most devastating to hit Algeria since a magnitude-7.1 quake struck west of the capital on Oct. 10, 1980, killing 2,500 people.

French TV footage showed helmeted rescue workers digging furiously through the rubble of collapsed apartment buildings and houses. One man said he saw panicked people jumping from a hotel window.

The quake was deadliest in towns near the epicenter about 40 miles east of Algiers, the capital. It struck at about 7:45 p.m., cutting electricity in some Algiers neighborhoods and sparking panic throughout the city. About 10 aftershocks rippled through the area in the following hours, though the city was calm by Thursday afternoon.

``It was a great shock,'' said Mohcine Douali, who lives in central Algiers. ``I ran out to the street with my wife and my two daughters, and no one has been able to sleep because of the aftershocks.''

The U.S. Geological Survey, which monitors quakes around the world, said the temblor had a preliminary magnitude of 6.7, but Algerian officials put it much lower at 5.2. The cause of the discrepancy was not immediately clear.

Numerous towns throughout the Boumerdes region east of Algiers were devastated, and residents swarmed to hospitals seeking treatment for injuries or news of loved ones. Dozens of bodies were laid out, their families weeping over them.

In Algiers, several building collapsed, reducing homes to piles of rubble mixed with kitchen utilities, clothing or a bicycle, and cracks appeared in buildings still standing.

People thronged the streets, preferring to be outdoors for fear of another temblor. Some schools were opened to take in people whose homes were unsafe.

``I saw the earth tremble. I saw people jump from the window of the hotel,'' a Boumerdes resident, Icham Mouiss, told French television station LCI.

Interior Minister Nouredine Yazid Zerhouni traveled to the worst-hit areas. A call for blood donors was issued, and medical personnel and employees of Sonelgaz, the state company that supplies electricity, were asked to pitch in and help.

France sent two rescue teams of 60 members each Thursday to help with the disaster in its former colony, and French officials were in contact with Algeria to see what additional help would be needed. French President Jacques Chirac sent his condolences Thursday to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Germany sent rescue experts, search dogs and special recovery equipment. Japan also sent an 18-member rescue team Thursday and plans to send a 43-member team, including police and fire officials and two rescue dogs in Friday.

Hundreds of Algerian Red Crescent staff and volunteers administered first aid to the injured and transported them to hospitals.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies was sending a team. Authorities said they feared the earthquake had damaged health facilities, as well as the water and sanitation infrastructure.

A hospital in the town of Baghlia was seriously damaged and numerous roofs in towns around the epicenter had caved in, the Interior Ministry said.

Lucy Jones, scientist in charge of the U.S. Geological Survey office in Pasadena, Calif., said Wednesday's quake likely occurred on a blind-thrust fault along the boundary between the African and Eurasian plates. Blind-thrust faults produce earthquakes when one block pushes upward over another, as if moving up a ramp.

The earthquake was the latest tragedy to visit this North African nation where an Islamic insurgency that has left some 120,000 people dead has raged for more than a decade.

In November 2001, more than 700 people were killed in flooding around the capital.

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Algerian Quake Kills 1,000, Rescuers Use Bare Hands

33 minutes ago

By Larbi Louafi

REGHAIA, Algeria (Reuters) - Rescue teams used bare hands and bulldozers in a frantic search through rubble on Thursday for survivors from an earthquake in Algiers and nearby towns that killed more than 1,000 people and injured some 7,000.

Stunned and weeping families were given hope about 17 hours after the quake when a man was hauled out alive after being trapped beneath a wrecked building in the city of Boumerdes.

Rescuers said hundreds could still be under debris from the quake.

The quake, 6.7 on the Richter scale, struck the Algerian capital and towns to the east along a populous Mediterranean coastal strip Wednesday night. Terrified people ran into the streets. Many had been indoors for their evening meal.

Others were killed when buildings collapsed in the quake, Algeria's worst in more than 20 years and felt as far away as Spain. Some Algerians angrily accused builders of erecting unsafe structures in a known quake-vulnerable region

The worst devastation was in the city of Reghaia, just east of Algiers, where a 10-story block of 78 apartments collapsed. About 250 bodies had been pulled out so far, rescuers said.

While rescue efforts went on round the clock, thousands of people were spending a second night outside with food and water running low. Electricity, gas and water supplies and phone lines had been severed in some of the worst-hit areas.

Rescue services urged people not to go back to their homes unless they were safe and said they should keep radios turned on for further announcements.

Former colonial ruler France, Germany, Spain, Britain and neighboring Morocco were among countries to dispatch search and medical teams as Algeria appealed to its citizens for blood donors and stepped up efforts to help the homeless.

HOSPITALS UNDER PRESSURE

Hospitals in many towns found it almost impossible to cope. In some areas, the injured had to be treated in the open air. State television showed dozens of bodies in lines under sheets and blankets.

Nearly 24 hours after the quake struck, Algerian state radio quoted Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni as saying the death stood at 1,092 and 6,782 people had been injured. Zerhouni said it was still a preliminary figure.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who toured quake-hit areas, declared three days of national mourning from Friday.

"It's a misfortune that hits the whole of Algeria," Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia told state radio. Most of Algeria's 32 million people live in the north, away from the Sahara desert. Algiers, on the coast, is home to at least 2.6 million.

Ouyahia said security forces were on alert to stop looting in a country riven by a decade of violence by Islamist rebels. The strife has cost more than 100,000 lives and burdened an economy potentially wealthy from natural gas and oil exports.

In Algiers, around 60 buildings were destroyed, among them the Training Center for the National Sporting Elite.

"You can smell the victims. Rescue workers are saying One, here, one here' as the search dogs find the dead," said a Reuters photographer on the scene.

In Rouiba, a relatively prosperous city some 20 miles from the eastern edge of Algiers, one building after another was reduced to rubble.

PERSONAL DISASTERS

"I have never seen such a disaster in my life. Everything has collapsed," said Yazid Khelfaoui, whose mother was killed. The rubble of his apartment block was all around him.

Bulouenes Sidiali, a resident of one block that collapsed to its foundations, said the building was only six months old.

"My friend went crazy this morning when he found his wife dead," Sidiali said. "The government must bring the owners of this firm to justice. They are criminals."

In Boumerdes, media reports said some people had jumped from windows when the quake struck.

Some 200 aftershocks hit northern Algeria in the first two hours after the quake and authorities said more would follow.

The U.S. Geological Survey (news - web sites) said the quake's epicenter had been 70 km (45 miles) east of Algiers. It said the quake was the biggest to hit Algeria since 1980, when one measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale demolished more than 70 percent of the city of El Asnam, west of Algiers. It was subsequently rebuilt as Chlef.

In 1994, about 150,000 were made homeless by an earthquake in northwestern Algeria that killed over 170.

France dispatched 120 rescuers with sniffer dogs and equipment. Germany sent 22 technicians, also with dogs and high-tech sound and imaging equipment. Spain provided a field hospital with 10 doctors and a search team with sniffer dogs.

Britain sent 42 firefighters and two sniffer dogs, while Morocco said it was dispatching 45 civil defense workers.

(Additional reporting by Paul de Bendern in Algiers)

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Algeria Earthquake Death Toll Tops 2,000

By KIM HOUSEGO, Associated Press Writer

BOUMERDES, Algeria - Furious crowds hurled debris and insults at Algeria's president Saturday when he visited a town devastated by an earthquake, blaming the government for a death toll that rose to more than 2,000 and shortages of food and water.

The anger came as Japanese rescue workers said they pulled a survivor — a 21-year-old waiter — from the rubble of a hotel on the Mediterranean coast at midnight Friday, more than two days after the quake hit.

The 6.8-magnitude earthquake flattened villages east of Algiers on Wednesday night. The Interior Ministry said least 2,047 people were killed and 8,626 injured in the quake, the official APS news agency reported Sunday.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika tried to tour the quake-ravaged town of Boumerdes on Saturday, but angry crowds harangued him with shouts of "pouvoir assassin!" — a common slogan roughly translated as "the authorities — killers."

Bouteflika cut his visit short. Police fought to hold back the crowd as he drove away, with many people throwing chunks of rubble and other objects at his car and some kicking the cars in his motorcade.

The president faced similar anger later in the day in Lakhdaria, where one elderly protester loudly accused the government of misappropriating international aid meant for quake victims.

He later shrugged off the protests, calling them "testimony to the vitality of Algerian youth."

The abuse directed at Bouteflika and other officials was a bold display of criticism against a military-backed government known to clamp down on dissent.

Amid the strife and destruction, Japanese aid workers on Saturday said they had some good news. After 3 1/2 hours of digging through the wrecked Adim Beach Resort at Zemmouri, they rescued a man who somehow had escaped injury.

"It was almost a miracle. He was unscathed," said Toshimitsu Ishigure, director of the Japanese Overseas Disaster Assistance. "He was able to breathe because he had a half-foot of space from a slab lying on top."

Hopes of finding further survivors, however, was evaporating. Ishigure said rescues became far less likely more than 72 hours after a quake, and British officials said Saturday they soon would withdraw rescue workers and replace them with relief and recovery experts.

The death toll was expected to rise as bodies are pulled from the rubble, and Hakim Mohand, of the Algerian civil protection unit, said it could reach 3,000.

The threat of disease was rising, they said, especially with temperatures rising to 104.

"Other risks such as infection must be tackled," Willie McMartin of Britain's International Rescue Corps told the Press Association news agency in Algeria. "There is an immediate need for disinfectant to be sprayed."

Townspeople across the quake zone accused the government of inadequately providing food, medicine and blankets. Some said government failure to rush mechanical diggers to affected areas delayed rescues and contributed to the death toll.

In Bordj Menaiel, a town of 20,000 people built largely by Algeria's former French colonial rulers, residents claimed the government had done nothing to help them.

Townspeople said the lack of necessities was exacerbating tensions between the ethnic Berbers who live here and Algeria's Arab-run government.

A 45-year-old entrepreneur who would only give his name as Rabah said he was among several hundred protesters when Interior Minister Nourredine Yazid Zerhouni toured the town Friday.

"He told us the damage could have been worse, that we should be patient. But how can we be patient when there are people, families under the rubble?" he said. "I am ready to go to prison, but I will not be ruled by this inhumane government."

Another man who would only identify himself as Rachid, a 39-year-old road building inspector, said the only heavy equipment they had was provided by private contractors.

"We are ready for war if need be," he said, almost shouting, throwing his fists into the air. Others shared his anger, denouncing the government in the harshest words.

"They can go to hell!" shouted one man.

But Bordj Menaiel's mayor, Abdallah Amara, insisted the crisis was nearly under control.

"The situation has almost been stabilized," he said from inside his office, where police kept people at a distance by erecting barriers.

He said authorities gave tents to the homeless, and other services were being restored.

Algerian civil protection units and volunteers, wearing white face masks, were still searching the rubble for survivors. Algeria's Le Matin newspaper said 200 of the town's residents were killed.

The situation was largely the same throughout the quake zone.

"This country was in crisis long before the earthquake ever hit," said one young surgeon who stood outside Ain Taya hospital with a group of doctors and nurses, and spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Now that I have time to think about it, it really seems like we were left alone to deal with this catastrophe."

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