Algeria Earthquake Death Toll at 1,000
Algeria Earthquake Death Toll at 1,000
By HASSANE MEFTAHI, Associated Press Writer
ALGIERS, Algeria - Rescue workers struggled to save survivors and international aid workers rushed to Algeria on Thursday after the most devastating earthquake (news - web sites) in two decades struck near the capital, killing nearly 1,000 people and injuring more than 5,000.
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 overflowed with the injured.
Soldiers and civilians used their hands to dig through the rubble of a partially collapsed building in the capital. One man said he saw panicked people jump from a hotel window.
In the town of Rouiba, near the epicenter, an Associated Press reporter heard the desperate cries of women mingled with the wail of ambulance sirens. Blocks of buildings lay in ruins, with unknown numbers of bodies trapped underneath.
"People yelled, `God is Great!'" Rouiba resident Hakim Derradji said. "It was horrible, it was like we had been bombed."
Algerian state television put the toll at least 977 killed, more than 5,000 injured and thousands more left homeless. 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.
"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 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 (news - web sites), which monitors quakes around the world, said the temblor had a preliminary magnitude of 6.7, but Algerian officials put it at 5.2.
Lucy Jones, a scientist at the U.S. survey office in Pasadena, Calif., explained that older seismic instruments, like those likely in use in Algeria, cannot accurately measure large-scale ground motions.
Jones also said the quake likely occurred on a blind-thrust fault along the boundary between the African and Eurasian plates. Blind-thrust faults produce earthquakes (news - web sites) when one block pushes upward over another, as if moving up a ramp.
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.
In Paris, Algerians living in France were desperate for news of their families. Dozens crowded around a counter at the city's Orly airport, hoping to buy plane tickets home.
"The whole city center has been razed to the ground," said M'Hamed Harkane, 34, a nurse from Thenia. "I have my father, my mother and my brother there. I don't know if they're dead — they probably are."
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 deployed rescue experts, search dogs and special recovery equipment. Japan sent an 18-member rescue team and planned to send 43 more rescue workers and two rescue dogs Friday.
Italy also said it was sending a plane with firefighters, engineers, rescue workers, digging equipment, tents and medical supplies.
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.
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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