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Algerian Death Toll Soars, Aid Begins to Flow to Survivors

BY Admin  May 23, 2003 at 3:55 PM EDT

As of mid-afternoon Friday Eastern Time, Algerian authorities said the official death toll was at least 1,600 and that more than 7,207 had been injured in the temblor.

The government declared Friday the beginning of three days of national mourning for those killed and the hundreds or perhaps thousands still missing. Despite this call, aid workers continued to scour housing blocks wrecked in the disaster. Many had been working non-stop since the quake, their bodies caked with dust and debris.

The 6.8-magnitude quake rocked areas east of the capital of Algiers, toppling apartment houses, uprooting trees and devastating residential areas. The earthquake, which struck at 7:44pm local time (2:44pm EDT) Wednesday, was followed by at least 10 aftershocks in the ensuing hours.

Rescue teams and disaster relief continue to pour into the beleaguered North African nation. Rescue teams, sniffer dogs and disaster experts arrived from Turkey, Sweden and Switzerland. Both Germany and Turkey also announced they would be sending medical supplies, including a mobile hospital, tents and medicine.

Despite multinational offers of assistance, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies issued an urgent call Friday for $1.5 million to provide food, blankets and medicine for survivors.

The deadly toll in the quake was expected to climb as workers shifted from rescue efforts to simply recovering bodies.

As the recovery effort continued, authorities both in Algeria and elsewhere began to examine why the quake had such a devastating impact. Earthquake experts in the U.S. said sub-par construction had led to a higher death toll.

“The earthquake in Algeria is of a size that would be expected to cause significant damage if it were beneath a populated area in the U.S.,” James Dewey, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, told The Christian Science Monitor. “But, typically, damage seems to be more severe in places like Algeria, and it is due to the construction.”

But there were also stories of survival and determination some two days after the deadly quake.

In the town of Boumerdes along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, a toddler was pulled from the ruins of a large apartment building alive Friday after hours of work by rescue teams and volunteers.

A Reuters correspondent on the scene reported French rescuers, who arrived Thursday to help, lifted the two-and-a-half-year-old and rushed her to the hospital. But officials in the town warned the rescue may be one of the few remaining positive developments.

“We’ve entered the third day, it’s already 30 degrees Celsius [86 degrees Fahrenheit] in the day, chances are fading fast to find anyone else alive. She was very, very lucky,” local official Abdou Rafik told Reuters