Posted by D from 126.96.36.199.cfl.rr.com (188.8.131.52) on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 at 10:44PM :
Hundreds, maybe thousands, were Friday feared trapped beneath the rubble of their homes, two days after an earthquake rocked northern Algeria claiming at least 1,460 lives.
Rescue teams backed by volunteers faced an enormous task amid the devastation wrought by Wednesday's quake which measured up to 6.8 on the Richter Scale.
Armed with shovels and axes, as well as bare hands, the families of the missing also scrambled to free the living against overwhelming odds.
But hopes were fading fast that there were many survivors beneath the mountains of twisted debris which are all that remains of dozens of apartment blocks, flattened by the worst quake to hit Algeria in more than two decades.
State radio upped the death toll Friday, quoting an interior ministry statement, saying some 1,467 people were killed and 7,207 injured.
Officials have warned the death toll is likely to rise as the rescuers uncover more bodies from underneath tonnes of debris.
French rescue teams, who arrived in the country on Thursday, have pulled five people, including two little girls, from the rubble, French authorities said. They had also found 14 bodies.
The 142-strong civil defence team would "stay as long as it takes, with one order, to save the people on the ground," said Eric Soupra, from the French interior ministry.
Two days after the quake struck, the initial shock and trauma was beginning to give way to anger, with victims turning on real-estate developers, accusing them of being corrupt and using shoddy construction methods.
"Why is it that the new buildings have collapsed and the old ones are still standing," asked one man, surveying a pile of flattened buildings east of Algiers, were many were believed to be entombed.
Entire areas of ramshackle housing crumbled like houses of cards when the quake which struck just as families were gathering at home for dinner, or to watch a UEFA football match on the television.
The worst-affected towns were Boumerdes, Reghaia and Rouiba on the eastern outskirts of Algiers.
Friday, the Muslim holy day, was the start of three days of official mourning, as international aid was pouring into the country to help with the rescue effort.
Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, South Korea, Russia and Turkey as well as the United Nations have all pledged to help a huge effort by the Algerians to help their already impoverished people.
Trucks were criss-crossing the streets of Algiers to hand out food, blankets and clothes to those who lost everything in just a few moments of terror.
The International Federation of the Red Cross and Crescent has also launched an appeal for 1.5 million dollars to help an estimated 10,000 victims of the quake.
Many more people were apprehensively returning to their homes after spending two nights in the open.
Thousands of Algerians living abroad were also desperately seeking news of their loved ones, after undersea phone cables were snapped, severing all phone links to the country.
France Telecom said it has been "working since Thursday to find alternative ways to carry telephone traffic through neighbouring countries."
Several hundred engineers have been mobilised to try to repair the cables, which lie more than 2,500 meters (yards) below the surface and were snapped in several places.
But the damage to the cables was extensive, and repair work was likely to be delicate and lengthy, France Telecom said, describing the situation as "unprecedented.
Seismologists have said the clash between the African and Eurasian tectonic plates which caused the quake, which was felt as far away as Spain, and unleashed giant waves that sank, overturned or damaged some 200 boats, although no casualties were reported at sea.
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