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Rescuers Race Against Clock in Search of Algerian Quake Survivors - 2003-05-23


The death toll continues to mount after Wednesday's earthquake in Algeria. Rescue teams are working against time probing mountains of rubble with sniffer dogs and listening devises to find survivors. Algerian authorities report more than 1,400 people are dead and more than 7,200 are injured.

The frantic search for survivors continues, but rescue teams say hope of finding people alive are fading. Specialists who flew in from Europe to aid the mission say they are hauling more and more bodies out from vast mounds of smashed concrete.

At a site in one of the worst hit areas, Boumerdes, some 50 kilometers east of the capital, Algiers, rescuers pulled an 18-month-old baby alive from the rubble of a building that had collapsed 36 hours earlier. But such miracles, they say, are few in number.

Anger is rising among Boumerdes residents who, desperate to find loved ones, are delving into the debris with just sledgehammers and bare hands. They complain that help has come too late. Algerians are blaming rampant corruption and violations of building codes as part of the reason for the massive destruction and death toll. They accuse builders of erecting unsafe structures in a known quake-prone region.

Algerian authorities say emergency squads have been facing a difficult task. Bulldozers are forced to maneuver gingerly around the edges of buildings for fear of causing more damage.

Algeria's 6.8 magnitude quake crumbled apartment houses, knocked down walls and flattened mosques.

It also snapped undersea phone cables linking Algeria with Europe. France Telecom reports that it has been working since Thursday to find alternative ways to carry phone calls through neighboring countries because direct communications with Algeria is nearly impossible.

Algerian medical authorities say hospitals are overwhelmed by the massive number of injured people, and are urging citizens to donate blood for the victims.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have appealed for $1.5 million to help the Algerian Red Crescent provide food and shelter to 10,000 people left homeless by the quake.

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