Posted by D from 126.96.36.199.cfl.rr.com (188.8.131.52) on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 at 10:56PM :
Shocked residents in the Algerian city of Rouiba hunted frantically for loved ones through the early hours on Thursday amid the rubble of an earthquake that devastated their homes.
Families thronged the streets of the town east of the capital Algiers where more than 100 were confirmed dead – state media put the provisional death toll from Wednesday night's tremor at more than 770, with 5,000 injured.
"It is catastrophic. I have never seen such a disaster in my life. Everything has collapsed," said Yazid Khelfaoui, who lost his mother in the quake,. The apartment building he lived in had collapsed.
Rouiba, a relatively prosperous, modern community some 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Algiers' eastern outskirts, was close to the epicenter of the quake and one of the hardest-hit areas.
Rubble was everywhere and rows of bodies shrouded in sheets were piled up near the hospital.
Women huddled with their children in the streets, afraid to go home for fear of aftershocks or worried about facing the cold without shelter.
Electricity was out in much of the city, hampering rescue efforts before dawn. Young and old worked to find survivors in the debris, after the authorities called on residents to help.
At the remains of a three-story apartment block in Rouiba, which collapsed into a pile of rubble when the earthquake hit, civil defense officials and families tried to locate more than 10 people believed buried in the debris.
"Most of my family was away too but my mother wasn't – she was taken to hospital," 30-year-old Amin Loukia said as he scrambled through the rubble. "But I lost my neighbor Djelloul. I hope I still find three of my neighbors alive."
Communication lines were working only erratically, and were jammed by families trying to find out if their loved ones were still alive.
Ambulances in Rouiba and nearby towns collected the injured, some driving to Algiers as local hospitals reached full capacity. State radio appealed for blood donors.
A school collapsed in Thenia, the nearest big town to the quake's epicenter, where dozens died. Four families were believed buried under the school.
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