- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2003

ALGIERS — Rescue workers struggled to save survivors as international aid teams rushed to Algeria yesterday after the most devastating earthquake in the country in two decades struck near the capital, killing more than 1,000 people and injuring nearly 7,000.

The 6.7-magnitude quake Wednesday night destroyed apartment houses, knocked down walls and toppled trees in the area east of Algiers. Hospitals overflowed with the injured.

Soldiers and civilians dug through the rubble of partially collapsed buildings with their hands, and one man said he saw people jump in panic from a hotel window.

In the town of Rouiba, near the epicenter, 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.”

The official Algerie Presse Service said at least 1,092 had died, nearly 7,000 had been injured and thousands more had been 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. 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 yesterday 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 at 5.2.

Lucy Jones, a scientist at the U.S. survey office in Pasadena, Calif., explained that older seismic instruments, like those likely to be in use in Algeria, cannot measure large-scale ground motions accurately.

She also said the quake is likely to have 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.

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.

In Algiers, several buildings collapsed, reducing homes to piles of rubble, and cracks appeared in buildings that remained standing.

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 60-member rescue teams yesterday to help its former colony, and French officials were in contact with Algeria to determine whether additional help would be needed. French President Jacques Chirac sent his condolences to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Germany deployed rescue experts, search dogs and special recovery equipment. Japan sent an 18-member team and planned to send 43 more rescue workers and two rescue dogs today.

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 also planned to send a team.

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