- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

ALGIERS (Agence France-Presse) — More than 450 people have been killed and at least 2,400 injured in a powerful earthquake around Algiers, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said early today.

Mr. Ouyahia, who is personally heading a crisis unit set up to coordinate rescue efforts, warned that the toll from the quake late yesterday was likely to rise steeply with “hundreds of bodies still under the rubble,” especially around the Boumerdes district 30 miles east of the capital.

Panicked Algiers residents, where at least 20 persons died, rushed out of their homes as debris from building facades crashed onto the streets and windows were broken, notably in the busy Bab el Oued and de Belcourt districts.

Women, some with children on their arms, and youngsters formed anxious groups out on the streets.

Many residents packed their cars with their belongings, including mattresses, and fled the city after the quake struck at around 7:45 p.m. local time (2:45 p.m. EDT). It was followed by a series of aftershocks.

Government radio issued urgent appeals for medical staff and blood donors to ease the plight of the wounded.

The epicenter of the quake, which measured 5.2 on the Richter scale, was located at Thenia, about 40 miles east of Algiers, the Algerian astronomy and astrophysics research center reported.

The main quake lasted about five minutes, with aftershocks felt faintly up to about half an hour after the main jolt, residents said.

State radio also issued an appeal for employees of the state gas and electricity company to go their places of work, to help restore utilities to stricken areas.

Residents of affected areas were advised to turn off their gas supplies and vacate their homes.

National radio said President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had gone to the scene of the catastrophe.

Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni said that 10 buildings had collapsed in Boumerdes and a hospital in neighboring Baghlia had been destroyed.

The greatest number of victims was in Rouiba, 20 miles east of the capital, where at least 104 persons died, and in Boumerdes, where the early toll was put at 50.

At least 42 persons were killed in the coastal town of Ain Taya, also east of the capital.

A quake specialist predicted that aftershocks, which could be felt in Algiers, would diminish gradually.

Algeria is hit regularly by earthquakes, but residents said the latest was more powerful than usual.

A quake in November 2000 registered 5.8 on the Richter scale, the Strasbourg observatory recalled.

One tremor measuring a magnitude 3.6 was registered on May 7 in the Setif region some 180 miles east of the capital.

Around 1,400 people were killed, 14,000 injured and 300,000 made homeless when two earthquakes struck the town of Orleansville, later renamed El-Asnam, also in the north, in one week in September 1954.

On Oct. 10, 1980, around 3,000 were killed and 8,000 injured when El-Asnam again was destroyed by a quake.

Yesterday’s quake also was felt, though not so strongly, along Spain’s Mediterranean coast, particularly the holiday hot spots of Majorca and Ibiza.

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